He spilled. Something that happens only… every…single…meal. Don’t cry over spilled milk they say. The parent version should be more along the lines of “Don’t go off on a parental tirade over spilled milk.” (I am still working on that one.) It wasn’t the fact that my eldest spilled milk, or food or whatever it was. It was how he so casually morphed into what looked like one of those sucker fish you see in the fish tanks and hoovered up what he had splashed on the table cloth. Almost equally as disappointing was his surprise by my objection to his doing so. Seriously?? Where did I go wrong?
This was not his, or any of my children’s first offense. I have watched my children use their shirts, the tablecloth, pants, underside of the table, and even their siblings clothing as a napkin in the very recent past. This is a symptom of a much bigger disease. Manners are going the way of the DoDo bird around here. Well, I have had it. I am taking back dinner time. I am going to make manners a must.
I, Dan Jacobs, officially declare war on my children’s lack of table manners! Table manners is what separates us from the animals! I refuse to believe I am raising wild boar instead of human children. Disclaimer: My wife insisted that I add this – She is and has been (truthfully) a tireless advocate for manners and genteel behavior.
The first step to healing is recognizing you have a problem. I believe we first must list the offenses being committed. I can’t just simply take the swine out of the pig-pen. I have to take the pig-pen out of the swine. Clean the inner vessel, as it were. The following offenses will no longer be permitted.
*”Accidental” burping. Oh yeah, I can tell the difference between an accident and a forced belch.
*Literally licking your plate clean – there are better ways to show appreciation for a meal you enjoyed.
*Scraping your meal into your mouth as if it were an insinkerator disposal. Efficient? Yes. Tolerable? No.
*Wiping your soiled hands on anything other than a napkin.
*Throwing food on the ground that is, in your opinion, inedible. We don’t have a dog to vacuum up your rejected food bits.
*Speaking with you mouth full.
*Turning dinner-time into your personal comedy routine. The idea is to eat, not to get your brothers to spew their meal all over the table laughing at your ill-timed gags.
*Using your hand as the 4th utensil. We have forks, spoons, and knives.
I do feel as though we as a family, and perhaps as a culture, have become increasingly lax on on dining etiquette. Now I realize that it is impractical to bring out the finest china each meal and insist the kids use the correct fork for the correct food item each time (this doesn’t have to be Downton Abbey formal) but here are some general rules of thumb to bringing manners back.
14 Table Manners to Teach to Kids
1. Try to have one sit-down meal each day with the kids. (studies back me up here, it’s important)
2. Set the table for that meal and use all the utensils for the setting. Have the kids learn the proper way to set the table. The knife and spoon are typically set on the right side of the plate and the fork on the left. Avoid the temptation to make a fork substitute for all other utensils. Forks are great. I love ’em, but I can’t stand watching my kid try to cut through his meal with one. Furthermore, have them learn to use the correct hand for the correct utensil. Knife in the right hand, Fork in the left. This will take some practice for kids but will help them maintain proper etiquette.
3. Put napkins on the table and encourage your children to place them in their laps. Or if that seems too impossible a feat, have them tuck them into their shirts. Perhaps this is not the best etiquette, but perhaps it will be better for little kids to have them close and perhaps keep their clothes just a bit cleaner.
4. Don’t let the meal become a smash and grab event. This isn’t looting and pillaging, kids… it’s dinner. I believe that it’s best that there be some sort of queue given that it is time to commence eating. For us it is asking a blessing on the food, for others it may be once everyone is settled. Find something that indicates it’s time to eat.
5. Insist the kids serve their mother first. In many cases, she is the one who spent the time making the food, let the kids know that she should be able to eat a hot-meal for once.
6. Insist that the kids request the food be passed to them politely. “Please pass the steamed rutabaga.” or “Thank you for passing me the boiled turnips.” are good examples of how the passing of food should go.
7. Use your knife to scoop up food onto your fork. My kids like to use their fingers. This will not be tolerated going forward.
8. Require that kids stay seated for at least 10-15 minutes. Even if they have finished before someone else. Around here it seems like one kids gets done and feels it his responsibility to entertain (distract) the others. Try to end the meal as much at the same time as possible.
9. Have the kids ask to be excused from the table if they need to leave earlier than the rest or if they need to step away for some reason. I know it sounds a bit formal, but it’s polite and this is dinner, not a buffet.
10. Take away distractions: TV, cell phones, electronics… these things can wait. Focus on the meal, manners will improve. Meal-time is also a good time to talk as a family. Perhaps, have everyone take a turn describing their favorite part of the day.
11. Don’t let your kids say they hate a particular food. They can simply state that some food item is “not their favorite”. Is there really any room for hate at the dinner table? Even if it is towards steamed rutabaga and boiled turnips…
12. Have your kids and spouse thank whomever prepared the meal. It’s easy and it’s the right thing to do.
13. Make clean-up a family event and don’t let anyone get what we used to call “dish-pan diarrhea”. It’s amazing how many people need to use the restroom or suddenly don’t feel well when it’s time to do dishes. Get over it kids. Many hands (even kids hands sometimes) make lighter work.
14. I lied, there’s only 13.
*Perhaps make a game out of who can be the most polite or reward them for improving on their manners.
Manners are still in vogue. Let’s all do society a favor and mend our misinformed mindsets of table manners! I for one am going to bring dinnertime manners back!
Full disclosure: The evening after writing this post we attempted an etiquette dinner. A unbiased observer might describe it as an epic fail. Myself, I will chalk it up to a partial win. The table was set, napkins were used, “please” and “thank you’s” were found in abundance… then before I knew how to stop it… fake British accents emerged, kids used ridiculous reasons to leave the table, “pardoning’ themselves to “relieve some excess gas” (all done in that same awful British accent, which of course, is more manners-minded), well as they say, one thing led to another and before I knew it, dinner-time turned into fart-lop-alooza 2015. My poor wife. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day… Can’t turn a pack of pigs into princes in one meal either.
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