“Mom, can we ask Ethan why he was late?”
My eldest piped up with this question around our Sunday dinner table, while sitting across from the named guest. I remember trying to silence him with a look, and then muttering something along the lines of “we’ll talk about it later.”
Ah, kids. They certainly aren’t born with manners. It’s up to us, the parents, to teach them until they grow up and begin to grasp the meaning of tact and diplomacy. A most interesting discussion on the Simple Bites Facebook page a while ago encouraged me to write down and share our guidelines for good manners.
We strive to teach good behaviour around our table, but, boy, is it a work in progress. I’ve learned to heap on encouragement, striving to give 5 times the praise for each reprimand or instruction. Some nights it feels impossible to find anything good to say, but the children perk up with the praise and noticeably try harder.
Our guidelines for good manners around the family table are easy enough to teach, learn and practice regularly. They apply for ALL of our meals: at home, in restaurants, as guests. The rules around your table may differ and of course that is perfectly okay! Harkening back to that group discussion on Facebook, I found it interesting that so many parents forbade elbows on the table. Personally, I have no problem with elbows, but that is just one example of how was all pick our battles. Okay. Here goes!
1. No electronics (for us grownups), no toys (for the kids).
This is the first step toward connecting with each other over mealtime. Our kids are too young to have their own electronics, but if we lead by example now, hopefully we’ll have fewer battles when they are teens.
2. Remain seated during mealtimes.
Our boys are jumpy, and they can bounce to their heart’s content before and after meals, but when we are eating, that’s it: we SIT. We have to keep it black and white for them otherwise they would be popping off to go look out the window, pet the cats, or some other distraction every two seconds.
Staying seated certainly gets easier as they get older, and yes, of course they may use the bathroom if needed!
3. Use utensils.
Amazingly, I find myself saying, “Keep your fingers out of your food!” less and less as the boys get older and we progress with our work on manners. Clara is the exception, as she was our Baby-Led Feeder, and still likes to occasionally use her hands. She’s pretty great with utensils, though!
4. Choose real life topics of conversation.
Children fuel the best conversation, full of hilarious quibbles, and eye-opening statements about themselves. Dinner is a key time to hear from them (even Sunday dinner) but it helps to have a few guidelines about topics. No bathroom talk is permitted, and our family adds one more: no discussion of TV shows, video games, or any other digital entertainment (or there would be no end to it.)
5. Speak respectfully.
‘Please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ are compulsory, but they come second nature as we have been working on these responses for a long time. Also, opinions must be expressed in a kind manner. No loud groans, or exclamations of “Ewwwwwwww” when a dish is presented.
“It’s not my favourite” is the preferred way to express dislike.
6. Chew with mouths closed.
And no talking while chewing. We’re not making much progress in this area, unfortunately. We have a ‘code’ signal for when guests are over and that helps remind them to clamp their lips together mid-sentence –but then a minute later they are caught up in the excitement of another story and, whoops….
If you have a good teaching tip to help with this, please leave a comment. So many adults were never trained to finish chewing before speaking and it is a huge pet peeve of both Danny and I.
7. Try everything once.
Are my kids picky? Not as bad as they used to be, but they are particular about a few things. They must taste new dishes before giving an opinion. Each season they re-taste their least favourite fruits and vegetables. You’d be surprised at how their palates change from year to year.
8. Be appreciative.
Our kids are old enough to grasp that there are hungry children in the world, yet once in a while they still need to be reminded of how blessed they are to have three square meals a day. We don’t tolerate much grumbling over a plate of food.
9. Ask to be excused from the table. And we have them clear their plate, cup and utensils as well. Recently, Clara has been doing the same (she’s 2 and 2 months) because she watches her brother clear the table every night.
A few final thoughts…
As in all parenting ways, it helps to lead by example. It really is that simple. And by the way, if you think your own manners are flawless, just ask your spouse or an honest friend for his/her opinion!
Don’t expect perfection, but do hold your children to at least try to do their best. Progress doesn’t happen overnight, but setting a standard and sticking to it is key to improving table manners.
Lastly, remember that we are not teaching our children manners to make us look good as parents, but to instil a foundation of respect and politeness that will help them better navigate life, both personally and professionally.
Now, who’s ready for dinner?
I’d love to hear your thought on table manners. Feel free to share them below and please keep the conversation respectful! Thanks.