It happens again and again: you’ve explained countless times to your children why good table manners are important — but here we go again! Your precious son burps at the table, giggles about it, and then so do his sister and dad! What’s a mom to do?
Congratulations! That’s right… if this has happened at your dinner table — oh, let’s say, some time this week — then you’re in good company! I guarantee you that this happens nightly all over the world! And guess what? We all woke up this morning and never even noticed. Why? Because when training (whether it’s your child, your puppy, or your spouse… ahem) consistency is king and repetition is queen!
It’s really difficult to expect kids to have the table manners drill down pat when many dinners involve shoveling food to the back seat of a SUV while on the way to soccer practice. But we understand that’s just the reality sometimes. And that means we all need to give our kids — and each other — a little grace in this department. All families are learning, all families are slowly making progress. No need to feel down on yourself.
But on the other hand, don’t give up entirely. As Emily Post would tell you, manners still matter. While some may consider table manners as disposable as our dinner plates, others believe knowing your way around a table setting actually sets your child apart from the rest of his or her peers.
For example, the College of Pharmacy at Lipscomb University thinks table manners and social graces are so important they invite me to teach a special edition of Polite Kids 101 to their graduating seniors! They don’t want their students to be caught off guard at dinner interviews or conferences that include dinner. Smart, right? Big fist bump to the Bison Nation.
Table manners exist so all of us, adults and kids alike, will feel more confident and less awkward in dining situations. And what better place to learn and polish these manners than in the safe and secure environment of home?
So here are my…
Top 6 Table Manners Problems and their Solutions
1. Table Manners Problem: Not Eating Dinner at the Table
Eek, this is a bad habit! Time to repent and make a 180º turn. Maybe your kids have gotten used to eating in the living room in front of the TV? It probably made sense when you started doing it, but now they’re older and you don’t see them as much… you’re starting to realize how important family dinner is. How do you convince the kids to circle back around to the table?
Check out The Family Dinner Project, a website devoted to getting families back to the dinner table and keeping them there. They have great conversation starters for different age groups and meal planning to help you simplify the process. Perfect!
2. Table Manners Problem: Getting Picky Eaters to Cooperate
You searched Pinterest for the perfect recipe, made the grocery list, actually went to the grocery store with kids in tow, and then spent the last 2 hours prepping dinner. You hand dipped chicken tenders in healthier ingredients, cut up fresh fruit and labored over home made sweet potato fries and guess what? Shall we say, it’s going unappreciated at the dinner table? And you thought you’d nailed this one, too. So disappointing!
Been there. How about trying the Thank You Bite policy for picky eaters? Seems fair enough to me. Parents should respect that some taste buds aren’t going to like certain foods. But kids should respect that parents aren’t obligated to make an alternate meal just for them. Dawdlers sometimes push their food around or play with it to keep from eating it. Super creative ones might use utensils as lightsabers or fairy wands. In any case, don’t allow
stalling playtime at the dinner table. It’s hard for kids to know where to draw the line.
3. Table Manners Problem: Bombs Away!
Ever have a child — how do I put it tactfully? — sharing too much? A bad attitude, a burp, a sneeze, or passing gas at the dinner table? It happens to the best of us, but is there a shockingly simple way to fix bad attitudes and more, whether it’s at your dinner table or at Grandma’s?
Since sneezes can’t really be helped, simply say bless you or Gesundheit and move on. If it’s allergy season, the sneezy party may need to be excused momentarily from the dinner table.
But as for the other offenses, you may need to get your referee’s uniform on quickly so you can discern if it was an “intentional foul” or otherwise. Sometimes it just can’t be helped. Drawing negative attention to the act can sometime backfire and cause more of a disruption.
Perhaps a smile, a look of alarm, or one word response like, “wow!” can move the incident along without making it into a spectacle. If it’s becoming an attention-seekers thing, talk with your child after dinner about the unnecessary and rude disruption of dinnertime and ask them to stop.
4. Table Manners Problem: Table Manners Triple Threat
I hear it all the time: using a sleeve as a napkin, talking with a mouth full of food, and elbows camped out on the table like a caveman are historically the 3 most-talked-about table offenses.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
So, to help you form the good habits you’re looking for, use gentle reminders like:
- “Remember to use your napkin.“
- “Please chew with mouth closed.“
- “Why don’t you tell us after you’ve swallowed that bite?”
- “Elbows off the table.“
5. Table Manners Problem: How to Get More Food
Aunt Susan’s homemade lasagna was a hit and Junior wants more? Awesome! Just make sure that he understands these 2 social cues of table time:
No go-go gadget arms
Kids are notorious for trying to reach way beyond their limits, trying to get something that’s 2 place settings over while dragging a sleeve through the casserole! No bueno! Just remind your child to always ask someone to pass a plate or dish of food to you. It’s much better than reaching.
Don’t eat as much as a horse
Asking for seconds isn’t a big deal as long as everyone else at the table has been served. And of course, teach your child how to ask politely. Try something like, “Aunt Susan, your lasagna is delicious. Would it be okay if I have some more?” If it’s okay with Aunt Susan, then the person nearest the lasagna should pass it over. If the item has already made its way around the table there’s no need to pass it counterclockwise. Just pass it the quick route to the person who’s asking for it.
6. Table Manners Problem: Staying Seated During the Meal
It’s so funny, but every kid does this: I’m finished eating my 3 bites and want to play. Don’t worry, I’ll come back in an hour, telling you I’m hungry! Ugh!
As for a solution? It kind of depends on the ages of the children in your family. Getting toddlers to sit at the table for dinner isn’t as easy as it is with school-aged kids. Toddlers are “grazers” by nature, plus they don’t like to sit. Do the best you can to keep them occupied, eating, and happy during family dinnertime. School-aged kids are a little easier because they are more developmentally ready. Remind your child that everyone in the family stays at the table until finished or until the adult in charge gives the okay to vacate. Be sure to do your part by asking questions about your child’s day and telling him about yours. Keep family dinner fun because the connection is what really matters!
These are the 6 table manners problems I hear the most about as I have taught etiquette classes over the years. Do you agree with me? Or did I miss one? Let me know in the comments below what your family is dealing with, and I’ll give you my best shot at an answer. I’m always happy to help families out. 🙂
Here’s hoping you have a wonderful, mannerly dinner tonight!
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