I don’t know about you, but mealtimes at our house can be a little, well, stressful. Some of this I bring on myself by allowing my kids to pick what they want to eat instead of serving one meal for the family and making them eat it. With the holidays approaching and my lovely Emily Post Etiquette book setting on my nightstand quietly summoning me to read the chapter dedicated to children’s table manners, I acquiesced and scanned through it last night.
These tips are not hard and fast rules. Let’s be honest, we need to keep our sanity and if that means Janie wants a pink glass instead of purple then give her the friggin’ pink glass. Some battles are not worth fighting, BUT if the battle means that eventually you can get to the point where it isn’t an issue anymore then give it the college try for a few weeks or a month and see if it takes. Here is what I learned:
The Family Table
Don’t worry if the meal isn’t elaborate. It can be takeout food that is warmed and served in real dishes and eaten with real dinnerware. Introduce new foods because a child used to variety at home is less inclined to be picky and fussy when eating out.
Clear and set the table. Have your children practice setting and clearing the table. One can be in charge of silverware or napkins. Teach them where the knife, fork, spoon, etc. should be placed.
Limit distractions. Turn off the T.V. and other devices.
Liven up the discussion. Instead of talking only about what they did today, try talking about what you have planned for the week, the month or year. It’s fun to have things to look forward to and setting goals is good too. You could also spark their imagination. Have them describe what they’re eating or have them make up a story.
Excuses, excuses. Young children should be allowed to leave the table when they have finished eating. They can ask if they may be excused. I usually warn my children on nights when dessert is not an option that this will be their last opportunity to eat and to eat more if they still feel hungry. I do not ask them to eat everything on their plate. The Clean Plate Club was something I was a member of as a kid and, well that’s a whole other topic.
Table Manner Timeline
By Age Six
- Arrive at meal with clean hands.
- Place napkin on lap.
- Begin to eat when everyone else does.
- Stay seated: no slouching, ducking under table, or rocking of chairs.
- Ask permission to get out of seat if necessary during meal.
- Keep elbows off table while eating.
- Use spoons and forks; begin learning to use a knife for cutting.
- Eat bite-sized portions and chew with mouth closed.
- Don’t talk with food in mouth.
- Ask for food-no reaching – and say “please” and “thank you.”
- Don’t make negative comments about the food.
- Join in mealtime conversation.
- Don’t interrupt others when they are talking.
- Don’t make rude or disturbing noises (burping, snorting, singing, etc.).
- Ask, “May I please be excused?” when finished eating.
- Thank the person who prepared the meal.
- Offer to help by removing own plate.
I cringed as I read these tips because while my four and six year old haven’t mastered some of these, I haven’t either. I’ve spoken with food in my mouth, “Sydney sit down before you hurt yourself!” I’ve occasionally made a face and said something like, “That rice was vile.” I guess we all have a little brushing up that we can do for ourselves and it sets the example for the children.
Do any of you have a question or gripe about etiquette? I was thinking of posting a few questions (you will remain anonymous) in the future. Thoughts?
Source: Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, Peggy Post