Meal time at our house sometimes resembles feeding time at the zoo. That’s what happens when you have a rambunctious 6-year-old and 4-year-old running around!

My wife and I try to enforce specific rules at meal time to teach our kids good behavior and lasting manners. It isn’t easy, and it sometimes leads to challenging moments and a test of wills.

Here are the nine rules we’re working on.

1. Help set up the table

Kids need to know that it takes a village to feed a family. Every day, as dinner time approaches, kids should ask their parents or guardians what they can do to help.

2. Stay in your seat

Many kids find it challenging to stay seated during a meal. After an afternoon of running around after school, it’s hard to sit still and focus on dinner. You might have to constantly remind your kids to stay in their seats — and it might seem like you have to repeat yourself over and over — but at some point, it will set in.

3. Sit like a human

If your kids are anything like mine, not only do they not sit still, but they also find creative ways to sit in their chair at the table. They might lean back, lean forward, sit on one leg, turn themselves around, or try to climb onto the table. Try to remind your kids to sit with their bottom on the seat and their feet front.

4. Wait until everyone is seated to start eating

Once food is on the table, kids want to dig in. They’re probably hungry and driven by impulses, so they start eating. Tell them it’s rude to eat before everyone is seated at the table.

5. Use utensils properly

Kids often see utensils as toys. They’re hammers or musical instruments. Take the time to explain to your kids what the utensils are for and anything else will not be tolerated. 

6. Chew with your mouth closed

Like nails on a chalkboard, chewing with your mouth open is one of those behaviors that get on people’s nerves. When you notice your child chewing inappropriately, point it out and ask them to try to keep their mouth closed while eating.

7. Eat slowly

Many of us rush through our meals like we’re late for an appointment. Help your kids lay a good foundation for meal-time behavior by eating slowly and calmly and properly chewing their food.

8. Don't talk with your mouth full

Another mistake we often make is talking with our mouths full of food. Young children might do the same thing without knowing any better. When you see your child begin to talk with their mouth full of food, ask them to stop, finish chewing, and then speak.

9. Don't reach across someone else’s plate

Again, with impulse-driven kids, they often reach for what they want on the table without thinking of anyone else around them. They need to understand that it’s rude to reach in front of someone else’s plate to get an item.

Finally, if they do these things, reward them with a treat or dessert. Good behavior deserves recognition.