As kids, table manners were drummed into us. Most nights we ate together at the table as a family, with each one taking turns to set the table before dinner, or clearing afterwards. And then, of course, came the washing up. These days, many families don’t eat at the table much, and for those that do, how strict are you where manners are concerned?
You may think I’m a little OTT here, but I’ve drawn up a list of my top 20 Table Manners. Seems like a lot, and it will take years of practice before good habits are formed and they become second nature, so I suggest that you start by focusing on one or two and as your little ones grasp those, add another couple.
As the mother of a young child, I get to see kids eating all the time. It’s something I can’t help noticing and I believe that table manners, or should I say ‘eating manners’ should be just as important today as they were when we or our parents were young. Of course I’m not referring to table settings with bread knives, fish forks, and 7 glasses in a row ready for 12-course dinner menus, I’m thinking more about the basics: chewing with our mouths closed, not getting up until everyone is finished, polite conversation using inside voices and waiting for your turn to talk, etc.
Might sound awfully stuffy, but don’t get me wrong. It isn’t. It’s one of the easiest ways to teach discipline and self awareness. And if started from a very young age, habits form which help us through our entire lives. And as much as we hate to admit it, and disregarding the PC-ness of whether it’s right or wrong, we judge and are judged based on the manners we display.
Meal time is more than just about sustenance, it’s about relaxing together while enjoying the company of others and a meal which someone has taken the time to prepare, no matter how simple or fancy. It’s about enjoying conversation, possibly at the end of the day when we share experiences or thoughts. With our lives getting busier and busier, it’s often hard to set a specific time aside to eat together, but I believe it is really important. It creates memories, we share laughs and stories, traditions are begun.
The other day one of my son’s friends came for a sleepover. This particular little boy has always had lovely manners, but it was watching him that made me want to share this with you. He held his cutlery beautifully. He chewed with his mouth closed, mostly, but tiny lips navigating big, new front teeth can be a little difficult – my son is exactly the same. He remembered his ‘pleases and thank you’s’. It warmed my heart to see the two of them sitting next to each other and know that we aren’t the only parents in today’s modern world trying to instill a few of the “older” values into our child.
Little ones love stickers and reward charts, so perhaps a star or sticker for each child after they have displayed a particularly good table manner. Perhaps a reward of sorts as well – we all love incentives – maybe they get to start off the discussion the next night or choose their favourite meal. You decide, but as with most things, try to make it fun or it can become a huge drag instead of an enjoyable time for the family.
Some may think that the world has more important things going on and bigger problems to worry about than whether or not one’s elbows were on the table, but I truly believe that if we all tried to learn, practice and remember the basics that set us apart from the animal kingdom, the world would be a much better place. And why not start with table manners – which can be instilled whether there is a table in the vicinity or not!