Good table manners are an important part of every meal and should be encouraged from an early age.
In recent years we have seen a decline in family meals eaten together around a table, accompanied by a rise in TV-dinners and a propensity to serve children finger foods such as pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs. Rather worryingly, many children now start primary school unable to use their cutlery properly, let alone keep their elbows off the table or chew with their mouths closed.
However, teaching your children table manners is not just about showing them how to hold the knife and fork correctly. You are also instilling in them the importance of showing respect and courtesy to their fellow diners.
Lead by example
Children are far more likely to do what you do, not what you say. Model the table manners you would like them to adopt and watch them copy your cues. As well as handling the knife and fork, you will probably want your children to master other basic rules such as washing their hands before the meal and not talking with their mouths full. Make a list of all the table manners you consider important and check yourself at mealtimes to ensure that you are following them.
Don’t overwhelm them
Have mealtimes become a constant battleground with you barking an endless stream of instructions to an unresponsive child? A barrage of “Elbows off the table!”, “Sit up straight!” and “Don’t speak with your mouth full!” are likely to overwhelm them and create mealtimes that are anything but peaceful. Instead, try slowing down and concentrate on one aspect of good table manners at a time.
Ask your child to pick one manner from the list you prepared earlier to work on for the week. You could even make a reward chart and give them a sticker for each successful mealtime, with a bigger reward to follow once they complete the full week.
Practice makes perfect
With most things in life, the more you do it the better you become and table manners are no exception. Unfortunately, for many families, life is simply too busy for sit-down meals to be the norm. A recent study found that the average family sits down together for just four meals a week. Many of those surveyed blamed conflicting schedules and the effects of technology for the demise of the family meal.
There is no denying that modern life can be hectic but, as often as you can, gather your tribe around the kitchen table for a home cooked meal and some good old fashioned conversation.
Regularly eating together has the added benefit of improving parent-child relationships and giving children a sense of stability and connectedness.
Establish a “no screen time during dinner” rule and encourage children to talk about their day or select age-appropriate topics that all family members can engage with.
Table manners for formal dinners
If your children’s table manners leave a lot to be desired you may be reluctant to bring them along to weddings, grown-up parties and other more formal occasions. However, the more exposure they have to these types of events the more polished their table manners will become. Their social confidence will also grow with each such outing.
It is a good idea to talk your child through the place setting prior to the event so he or she is familiar with the proper usage of utensils and napkins. Our children’s etiquette classes include a three-course working lunch to give students ample time to put what they have learned into practice with guidance from an experienced etiquette trainer.
Trying new foods
Encourage your child to try new and unfamiliar foods whether they are offered at home, at a social event or in a restaurant. It’s a good idea to have a family rule that each person tries a small portion of everything that is served at mealtimes.Talk to your child about the importance of not making negative comments about food he or she doesn’t like.
Some foods are trickier to eat than others and it can be useful to give children some helpful pointers on how to handle potentially mess-making dishes like hamburgers, asparagus, corn on the cob, spaghetti and sushi.
Activities to try at home
- Make a reward chart for each family member (including Mum and Dad) with all the table manners your children need to work on.
- Get your child to plan a meal that includes soup, starter, main course, cheese and dessert.
- Practice using the correct setting by drawing it on a piece of paper and labeling utensils in the order they are used.
- Put a small bell by the dining table and ring it when someone chews with their mouth open, leans on their elbow or does something else that is frowned upon. Ask the children to guess which rule was broken.
- Enlist your child’s help in planning a week worth’s of menus that include foods they have not tried before.
- You can find more tips on manners-themed activities at educational resource specialist ChildFun