If you have ever sat down at your dinner table and been so revolted by what you witness with your child that you lose your appetite, than you can appreciate the task of teaching kids table manners. Sadly, parents spend an immense amount of time teaching kids table manners when they are little, constantly directing them to chew with their mouth closed, keep their elbows off the tables, stop playing with their food and to eat with their fork that you would think the human child would be automatically programmed to be mannerful. However, any visit to a Ruby Tuesday’s on a ‘kids eat free’ night and you will see that the opposite is in fact true. Why is that? What can be even more disconcerting is that teenagers seem to lack table manners to an extreme and few seem to know how to sit at the table properly, let alone bring their fork to their mouth rather than their mouth to their plate. In the scheme of life, table manners ARE important. There will be many times in a person’s life when they will be judged and evaluated as a person by the kind of table manners they have.
The first step in teaching kids table manners is to give them a good example. Today’s family rarely spends dinner together at the table and this could be giving way to a new generation of table heathens. However, you don’t want to find out at a thanksgiving dinner that your child lacks etiquette. So, at least twice a week try to eat a family meal. Making this a tradition when your children are just in high chairs will go a long way in helping mold some sense of table manners. If you can do it more then by all means do so. The second step is to expect your children to use manners ALL the time. Teach them to do the simple things like wash their hands before they eat, to not blow their nose or comb their hair at the dinner table and to keep a napkin on their lap. When you expect simple manners your children learn quickly that these are the non-negotiables of living under your roof. Even better, they won’t know that another way exists – except for what they see in the cafeteria at school. Remember that you are an example as well. You can’t sit your kids down and expect them to use manners if you don’t use them as well.
The next step is to teach them simple commands like please, thank you and excuse me. These aren’t catch phrases and are in fact, terms that should be used many times throughout every day of the year. Especially at the table. Yes, it’s funnier to throw rolls across the dinner table but it’s more mannerful to ask for them, and then thank the person that passed them. When your kids are young, remind them! All the time. Whether you are at McDonalds or at your own home, keep manners at the table at the forefront. This requires more discipline from parents than it does from children but it’s definitely worth it! You also need to remember to be an example at the table. (Yes, that has already been said before).
One aspect of manners that many parents forget to teach their child, is how a child should act in the company of other people. It’s one thing to have your own flesh and blood act distasteful at the table. However if you have ever had your child’s friend over for dinner or out to dinner with you and had to deal with their rudeness at the table and otherwise, you know how embarrassing that can be for the parents. Remind kids that they shouldn’t complain about the food; be extra picky in the company of others. Remind them that they should follow rules of etiquette at the table and otherwise, especially if they are out with other people. And do the same yourself. You should use better manners at your in-laws dinner table than you do your own, no matter how comfortable you are.
One of the most upsetting aspects that show a lack of manners at the table is older children who push away from the table after a meal, burp, and just leave. When teaching kids table manners, make sure they know that they should stay at the table until everyone is done eating. Also, teach them that once they finish dinner, they should stick around to clear the table. It doesn’t hurt a 5 or 15 year old to be responsible for their own plate and putting away the ketchup. When they are at a friend or relative’s house they should adamantly perform their table manners and help with the clean up. When this is expected at home, they will be more apt to do it naturally away from the home.
Teaching kids manners isn’t about having a prim and proper atmosphere at the dinner table. Dinner can be full of laughter and jokes. However, it should all be done with respect. Since antiquity eating together, breaking bread, sitting down for a meal have been mainstays in the human culture and there is a right way and wrong way to go about doing it. Not teaching kids table manners really is sorry parenting. Some parents feel they want to give their child freedom of expression and a lack of rules or restrictions. But children need a lot of both. They need to realize that there are boundaries of acceptable behavior that are appropriate in the presence of others. If they cannot use their table manners, don’t deny them food deny them the bounty of social bonding that occurs at a respectable dinner table with family and friends instead.
Teaching kids table manners doesn’t take a parenting book or some sort of training. What it takes is respect, a general sense of expectation that they will adhere and constant reminding and training. Manners are a part of life and your child will get much further with them, then they will without.