The Butler Is In: Teach your kids table manners early

Certified protocol and etiquette consultant John Robertson explains why it's important to keep bad table manners from taking hold.

Certified etiquette consultant John Robertson says it's another necessary life skill

Teach your kids to keep their cellphone way from the table, says CBC P.E.I. etiquette expert John Robertson. (Getty Images/EyeEm)

Parents teach their kids basic life survival skills, like looking both ways before crossing the street, as they prepare them for the world.

But CBC P.E.I.'s protocol and etiquette expert, John Robertson, says it's just as important to teach children social skills, including table manners, if parents want them to succeed.

Kids that are raised without table manners will find it costs them as they enter adulthood, Robertson told CBC Radio's Island Morning.

"You'll never know what went wrong: job offer you thought was in the bag evaporates on the third interview over lunch with a senior manager," he said.

Teaching manners from day 1

Robertson said aside from queries about life's biggest milestones, the question he's asked most often is, "When should I start teaching my child table manners?"

John Robertson says to teach your children table manners gradually and gently. (Submitted by John Robertson)

His answer: If you have children, you've already started teaching them. "Children mimic adults."

Robertson said it's good to start with the basics — washing hands, being on time, sitting properly, using napkins, waiting for everybody to be served, and leaving baseball caps and smartphones away from the table.

This can be done gradually, with gentle encouragements.

"We don't want to overwhelm them with rules and regulations from the time they sit down," he said.

Eventually they can learn the more subtle rules of table etiquette, but not yet.

"There's lots of time ahead for all the refinements and the niceties," he said. "This is a time for confidence building and being comfortable in a dining situation and learning to enjoy it."

Going into the world unprepared — or worse, oblivious — will cost you, he said.

"You get excluded from invitations where relationships are strengthened and alliances made. You'd never know why you weren't included. It's the downside of not having these social skills."

With files from Island Morning