You know that kid. He’s
the one who is appalling even the other children with his atrocious table behavior.
He spills food all over the place, he doesn’t ask before grabbing items,
he makes obnoxious bodily noises and he talks with his mouth open. He’s
only a child and yet you can’t help but be a little bit repulsed by him.
When you look at your own children, perhaps in a public place where you can
feel the scrutinizing eyes of other parents’ judging your parenting techniques,
do you see this child in place of your own?
Don’t fret if you do.
First of all, it’s unlikely that your child’s table manners are
as atrocious as you think that they might be. And secondly, even if they are,
you can teach him the manners that he needs to avoid being labeled “that
kid” at every table he sits at for the rest of his life. But if you’re
going to teach good table manners, there are a few things that you need to know:
you must model good behavior, you must accept that change comes slowly and you
must be realistic. With these things in mind, you’re well on your way
to having children whose table manners are appropriate for public eyes.
Model good behavior
It’s true for all of
the things that you want your kids to do and it’s even more true for table
manners: if you want them to have good habits, you have to model them yourselves.
When your children are young, you put a bib on them to make sure their food
doesn’t get all over the place. As they get older, you teach them to use
a napkin. But do you use your napkin? Take a look at the habits that you hope
your children will have and then do a good once-over on yourself to make sure
that these are table manners that you yourself can model. Your child learns
a lot better, especially in the preschool years, from the “monkey see,
monkey do” mimicking process than from being told what to do and trying
to remember to do it.
Change comes slowly
If your child has already
developed bad table manners, you have to accept that changing them may take
a little bit of time. Don’t punish your child for forgetting table manners;
instead, make the table a pleasant place where pleasant behavior is rewarded.
Safety at the table (not talking with your mouth full because it could lead
to choking) is the primary concern so you should start your efforts there. Then,
if there are particular table habits that your child has which really bother
you, focus on changing those. Finally, once you’ve gotten good table manners
in place in those areas, you can adjust other manners.
Kids are kids. Preschoolers
don’t always have the coordination to keep their food on their plates
and they don’t always remember to say “please pass the salt”
before reaching it. Set your table up in a manner that is conducive to their
developmental stage and be understanding as they face the challenges of table
manners. Also, be realistic about why you want them to have good table manners.
Is it because you’re concerned about their safety and their social acceptance
or is it because you don’t like the way Ms. Jones looks at you when your
kids get a little bit loud at her table?
There is no denying that
table manners are important. We learn them so that we can keep the dinner table
safe and comfortable and so that we can go out and socialize over meals as we
get older. But they aren’t the be all and end all of your child’s
social skills. It’s highly unlikely that the rest of the world sees every
little table manner problem that your child has; you see it because you’re
working on it with him. So, relax, and take the process of teaching your child
good manners with a little grain of salt.
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