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Teaching Toddlers Table Manners

It's a common scenario: Breakfast is proceeding nicely (read: quietly) until your toddler knocks his cereal bowl over onto his high-chair tray. Intrigued by the oozing mess, he dumps his juice on top of it, too!

Understandably, your first response may be to scold your kid. But if you really want him to have stellar table manners, strange as it may seem, overlook this slipup. Making a big scene will only fuel his bad behavior because to a kid this age, any attention is good attention.

Instead, make a fuss when he does eat properly. Say, "Look how you're using that spoon just like a big boy!" When he spills, just remove him from the table without saying a word about it. "This technique is called 'ignoring to extinction,'" explains Charles Shubin, M.D., medical director of pediatrics at the Family Health Centers of Baltimore.

When he spills something on purpose, you could also respond without talking directly to your child. Say, "If Jack didn't drop food, that would be much better," as if he weren't there.

Either way, try to be realistic. Your toddler isn't trying to annoy you, he just lacks the patience to sit through an adult-length meal. Once he starts playing with his food, he's usually not hungry anymore. Let him leave the table when he starts to get restless  -- and applaud the mess he didn't make.