Personally, I’ve always found that clean, effective communication and setting a good example go much further toward getting kids to have good manners, than any level of punishment. Of course, it’s rough when you’ve got multiple kids of various ages – as the kids will start to look to each other for an example to set (i.e., “My little brother got away with playing with food, why can’t I?”).
This is one of the reasons I’ve found it totally vital, in the quest for kids to be well-mannered, to not only set a good example oneself (as a parent) but also to insist that kids all realize they have a duty to set a good example, as well.
I can’t tell you the number of times that we’ve been struggling with getting kids to sit at the table and eat, and then my wife & I look at each other, and we’re flying around doing EVERYTHING ELSE besides also sitting & eating.
The moral code that Scientologists follow is L. Ron Hubbard’s The Way to Happiness – and contained in which is the vital precept of Set a Good Example.
“A parent may believe that a child learns to use a napkin, knife and fork merely because he is told that if he doesn’t use them properly, he will be spanked. By test, this inhibits the natural learning, putting an artificial command under the natural ability to mimic. The common result of this is to cause the child to revolt. If the child is permitted to observe, without coaching or coaxing, adults eating with knives and forks and using napkins, the child, unless badly aberrated, will, by test, struggle and fumble to mimic. And it will come up at last with manners, better manners than those forced upon it, providing the parents themselves know how to use table silver and napkins properly.” — L. Ron Hubbard
In short – as a parent, or whenever you’re around kids, be mindful of what you’re doing, and try your best to set a good example.