With fall coming fast upon us, our schedules have become more and more filled with birthday parties, dinners, evening gatherings, and a myriad of other table activities all necessitating that my three year olds act like they know how to behave in public situations. Thankfully, we’ve actually worked quite a bit on honing the kids party manners behind the scenes. Here’s how we’ve done it.

We have what we’ve affectionately coined around here as “manners on” and “manners off” nights. The idea is simple – most nights we just have a normal dinner, like every other family has. About 90% of our meals are just served up as is, no fanfare whatsoever.

But, about once a week, we host a “manners on” meal. This meal is practice – and practice is what a toddler needs if you’d like them to behave a certain way. We practice sitting at the table with our backs straight. We lay out the utensils and choose the correct one for the dish in front of us. We eat slowly and politely, and even practice our dinner conversation with each other. We all sit at the table until everyone is done and practice what it means to be polite at a dinner party.

Another night during the week we tell the kid’s it is “manners off” and they can act like complete three year-olds! Apart from flying food, we try not to correct many issues on these nights. Sometimes it’s pizza in front of the TV, or pasta at the table that ends up everywhere (how do they do that!?!). We let them use the utensils they are comfortable with, and we all make a point to be quite laid back.

The whole process has become great fun and they love practicing their manners. When we go out to a party, or dinner at a friends house, we quietly whisper to them that this is a “manners on” meal and they instantly know how to act. They aren’t perfect (and that isn’t the point of it anyway), but they are learning the importance of manners in social situations in a fun way. They are also learning what it means to relax and have a blast when it is time for that. It is the perfect mesh of my husband’s background and mine.