06 Sep, 2012
Guest post: Missing manners
Posted by andrea tomkins in: Guest postings
I believe that the job of a parent is to prepare kids for life and make good citizens out of them.
During a recent dinner we helpfully pointed out to one of our daughters that she was holding her fork incorrectly. Her answer was pretty predictable. “WHO CARES if I’m holding my fork wrong,” she moaned.
Well, I care. There are table manners that obviously fall under the category of “Very Bad.” Food falling out of your mouth, for example, or picking your nose at the table. But I wasn’t able to explain why holding your fork is so important. I’m still struggling to come up with a better answer than “because it is.”
As I sit here and think about it I’ve come to the conclusion that table manners are important (as well as knowing how to use cutlery) because People Will Judge. Always. And even though we tell our kids never to judge a book by its cover, we also tell them the very opposite. For example we tell our children to stay safe and steer clear from creepy-looking people downtown. That’s judging, right?
So yes, we are judged every day, and we judge, even though we often proclaim ourselves to have risen above the judgyness.
Someday our children will be grown up, and they might find themselves at a business luncheon with a potential employer. If they shovel food in their mouths and wipe their gravy-stained fingers on the tablecloth and top it off with a loud belch they aren’t likely to get the job, are they? t’s important to Make a Good Impression and Look Classy. And this is where manners come into play. Manners are the same as good behaviour.
Cecilia Pita is a very nice lady who hired me way back for a photo shoot, and she happens to be an expert in the area of etiquette. Her business is called Savoir Faire. In a recent email she mentioned that etiquette is not about being stuffy, it’s about how we treat one another. And this is an idea that I liked very much. I thought it would be cool if she posted something here about kids and table manners, and maybe got a discussion going about it. I think it’s a topic that’s worthy of being explored, so please read on!
Do you cringe at the thought of taking your kids out for dinner? Do you stay in just to avoid the drama? Well, you’re not alone. Over the years, I’ve had many well-intentioned parents share their table manners woes with me: They don’t listen. We try, but they don’t get it. We’re always nagging. There’s just no time!
If you break it down in graphic terms, eating involves piercing food with a metal tool, hoisting it to your mouth, chomping it to a pulp and gulping it down. This can be quite an unappetizing experience to witness if it’s not done with a little savoir-faire! But, we’ve all got to eat and eventually we’re going to have to (gasp) eat in front of other people.
And, while you may not always know which fork to use, slurping your soup or wolfing down your food before everyone else is served is bound to generate some incredulous looks, no matter how old you are.
But, kids will be kids at the table, right? Um, says who? If we want our children to show confidence, respect, and consideration for their fellow meal mates and be able to take them out to dinner, we’ve got to fill their proverbial toolbox with the necessary tools. Table manners is one of those tools. Quite honestly, we’re doing our children a disservice if we think they’ll learn table manners through some miracle of osmosis, that it will happen “eventually” or that a simple reminder before an important outing is enough.
So, how do we teach our little ones the rules? Simple. By modelling, practicing and explaining the behaviour we would like to see and having a persistent, patient and positive attitude.
Here are five tips I use to teach my family table manners. I’ve even thrown in some dos and don’ts for good measure!
1. Plan a weekly family meal. If you can squeeze in at least one meal at the table, you’re setting the stage. (Relax. You don’t need a 6-course meal. Pizza will do!)
2. Ask your little ones to help set the table. (Idea: Make paper place mats and draw out a place setting. Then ask them to put the “pieces” where they belong. Depending on their age and for safety’s sake, you may want to start with just the napkin.)
3. Model the rules; your children are watching you.
- “Please pass the bread…Thank you.”
- Do swallow before speaking.
- Do gently pierce, not stab, food with the fork.
- Do keep anything that isn’t part of the eating ritual off the table. (Yes, that includes electronic devices. Feel free to turn them off too!)
- Do say “May I be excused?” or “Excuse me.”
4. Explain yourself.
- “I’m turning off my cell phone because it would be rude to take a call in the middle of our conversation.”
- “See how I waited until I had swallowed before answering your question? No one needs to see my chewed up food in my mouth and I don’t want to accidentally spray the table with food bits.”
5. Praise when appropriate.
- “Thank you for excusing yourself from the table.”
- “I’m so proud of how you handled that pie! You were quite the pro with the fork!”
- “You were very patient while we waited to be served. I know it seemed like forever, but we all appreciated it.”
We may not be born “knowing” the rules of the table, but I’m confident we all have the ability to raise little ladies and gentlemen. Need a little help? I’m happy to oblige.
Thank you for your words of wisdom Cecilia! If you’re a parent, I’d love to know how you tackle table manners at your house. Or am I the only one who pesters my kids about how they hold their forks? :)
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