Can you imagine enjoying a special meal in an upscale restaurant with your family? Yes, even with your three year old and the nine year old twins with the devilish twinkle. If the answer is “Are you crazy?”, or you feel you would have to leave an exorbitant tip to compensate the waitstaff at the end of the evening, then it’s time to look closely at your dinner table.
I’ve made the bold assumption that the family actually sits down together for dinner. In so many families this rarely happens. Work and children’s activities are scheduled so that it is often impossible for families to enjoy this time together. An even sadder fact is that when it is possible to dine together the television is the main source of communication. If it’s possible to schedule all the sports activities, then it’s possible to schedule all-important family time. This is where the family learns about each other. This is also where the children learn appropriate table manners. Neither of these can be accomplished satisfactorily when the television is a dinner guest. The television is more likely to be an example of what not to do.
We can’t expect our children to spontaneously act like little ladies and gentlemen in social settings without consistent instruction at home. It’s never too early to start.
Ages 2 – 3: This is when we lay the foundation of manners. This is when children are extremely receptive to new ideas. Insist on the use of polite words, please, thank you. Throwing food is no longer cute. A spoon and fork should be used. Children are capable of asking permission to leave the table and waiting for a response.
Ages 4 – 7: Introduce basic table manners. Give guidance in the use of a knife and fork. Reinforce no talking while chewing and to always chew with a closed mouth. Napkins are more than decorative pieces of fabric.
Ages 8 – 12: Refine the use of the knife and fork. Sleepovers and meals with friends are now common. It’s important for children in this age group to understand host and guest duties. That includes not saying yuck to anything or anyone.
Ages 12 and up: Your fine diners will need constant reinforcement but should be able to conduct themselves appropriately in most social settings. Reinforcement does not have to be nagging. Example is the best teacher.
Mealtime should not be an etiquette struggle. Good table manners make this special family time enjoyable for everyone. Yes, there will be relapses, peas on the floor, milk moustaches, and unique ways of manipulating cutlery. It’s all part of the process.