It unfortunately seems that the more rights children get the fewer manners they have; and I cannot stress enough the importance of children being well-mannered at the table. This is not only important for the child in order to prepare them for life in society, but also for others in the vicinity so that they can eat their meal in peace.
I was raised in the belief that `Manners Maketh the Man’ and therefore get really upset when I see children with no manners. No human being is born with manners; they need to be taught manners by their parents. Parents need to be good role models to their children at all times, as all children mimic their parents and the way they react in situations. We were taught to stand up and give up our seat to an older person on the bus or train, greet an adult who visited the family home, respect our elders and use `please’ and `thank-you’ when speaking to others.
Unfortunately many of the parents of today are so focused on raising their children without the discipline that they were raised in that they end up not disciplining them at all, and also do not teach them the basics of etiquette. This is a problem that is being seen more and more worldwide, and most adults these days complain that children have no respect at all for parents, teachers, or anyone else for that matter.
Why Have Manners Disappeared?
Why has the culture of using `please’ and `thank-you,’ good table manners and addressing those who are older than you with respect all but disappeared from society?
Many parents blame the culture of television and movies for this disintegration, or they blame the digital age where individuals seem to communicate more via social networking and cellular phones than in person. Whilst these facts may be partially to blame, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that children have manners rests with the parents.
Parents of today are generally far more lax in the upbringing of their children as they feel that they were raised in an age where parents were very strict, there were too many rules and regulations, parents were unapproachable, and ‘children should be seen and not heard’ was the catch-phrase of the day. Unfortunately this has led to parents going to the opposite extreme and giving kids free reign, which is also no way to raise well-mannered, balanced children who have respect for others and empathy for those less fortunate than them.
As a parent, it is your duty to care for your offspring, but whilst ensuring that you are approachable, you are not their friend, and it is up to you to achieve a good and healthy balance and teach them how to act towards others and the value of good manners, or the future of our civilized society is doomed.
Why Are Manners So Important?
Manners, including table manners, are really important, although many parents these days seem to feel that they have far more important things to teach their children. Whilst learning to do well at school subjects and sports are important, so are learning manners, because:
- Well-mannered children are well-liked children.
- People prefer to spend their time with those who have manners as opposed to rude, disrespectful, ill-mannered individuals.
- Those who do not have good table manners will find themselves excluded from invites to meals, whether at friends’ houses or at restaurants, by both friends and family.
- Children who are disrespectful and ill-mannered will get into far more trouble at school as they will disrespect their educators too.
- Children are taught manners, so those with no or bad manners are a bad reflection on the parents.
How To Teach Your Children Good Table Manners
Having good table manners demonstrates an understanding of social graces and respect for others, and teaches children the value of discipline. Good table manners lay the foundation for the development of other habits and behaviors that will stand them in good stead as they mature into well-balanced, well-liked and respected adults.
Children are not born with manners, though; they need to be taught manners by adults, generally their parents. This is not an easy task, as the only way that children learn the necessary manners and table-etiquette is by constant reminders and reinforcement until such behavior becomes second nature.
Begin At an Early Age
Waiting too long to teach your child table manners can result in bad habits setting in which may be far more difficult, if not impossible, to change. This cannot all be done at once though; correct table etiquette needs to be taught in stages:
- Begin by teaching the child to use simple phrases such as “please” and “thank you” when asking for something at the table and being given it.
- Start teaching them to use various utensils correctly by the age of three.
- Children love to imitate adults, so be sure to use the correct etiquette yourself so that they can learn good table manners.
- Demonstrate how they should hold and use the utensils correctly, starting with a spoon then moving on to a fork and eventually a knife as they are ready.
Children, especially young children, learn from feedback; whether it is corrective feedback or praise, so make sure that you use this to your advantage.
- Teach your child how to clear the table after a meal, and where to stack the dirty plates. Thank them for a job well done.
- Once they are old enough they can help to set the table. Show them where the different items such as the salt and pepper should go as well as where different dishes and cutlery goes. Do this with them a few times, and then let them try on their own. Congratulate them for a job well done.
- Thank the child for setting the table and helping you to make the dinner process go quickly and smoothly.
Model Appropriate Behavior
Children learn by imitation, so actions speak louder than words when it comes to teaching good table manners:
- Ensure that al family meals are eaten at the table, not in bedrooms or lounging in front of the television (which should be switched off during meal-times)
- Sit up straight and do not lean your elbows on the table during meals.
- Do not reach for the condiments, but ask politely for them to be passed to you and remember to thank the person who hands them to you.
- Engage in polite conversation during the meal, ensuring that you do not speak with food in your mouth, and give each member of the family a turn. Explain that a mealtime is not only good for providing the body with the nourishment it needs, but also a good time to bond with others at the table.
- Do not overload your plate; rather finish a smaller amount first and then if still hungry dish a bit more
- Make sure you eat all your vegetables so that your children will emulate you
Making learning table-manners fun and a positive thing is the best way, and this can be achieved by various means. Make a chart for younger children wherein they get a star for each meal where they did everything they have been taught ; once they attain 10 stars you can take them out for a meal at a restaurant with a special treat at the end of it.
Basic Table Manners Every Child Should Know
The easiest way to ensure that your children know what the basic table etiquette is when eating out or at a friend’s home is to teach them at your own dinner table. Once a child is a bit older and knows the basic table-manners there are many finer points of etiquette that should be taught them so that they will never act inappropriately in company:
1. Offer to help set the table if you are eating at a friend’s house. A traditional table setting is used in most homes, and consists of the napkin on a side-plate to the left of the dinner plate and the knife (blade facing the plate) and the spoon to the right of the plate. A glass can be placed slightly above the knife and spoon.
2. Wash your hands before setting the table or sitting down to eat.
3. Fancy table settings confuse many people who are not used to them and can consist of many different forks, knives and spoons with which to eat different courses. A quick tip to remember is that this cutlery is always used from the outside in; in other words start with the cutlery that is furthest from the plate and work your way towards the plate with each course. If unsure, sneak a peak at what cutlery others are using.
4. Place you napkin in your lap when seated, and fold it and place it neatly to the left of your dinner plate when getting up from the table, either to use the restroom or at the end of the meal.
5. Sit up straight and do not slouch or lean on the table. This is good table-manners and will also help with your posture and your digestion.
6. No elbows on the table.
7. If you have to sneeze, turn your face away from the table, cover your mouth with your napkin and say “Excuse me.”
8. Cell phone etiquette demands firstly that you should switch off your phone during a meal. If you absolutely have to have it on, excuse yourself, get up from the table and walk away to take a call.
9. Chew with your mouth closed and chew quietly; only cows chew with their mouths open.
10. Never talk with food in your mouth. Nobody wants to see what you are chewing, or be spat with half-chewed food while you are speaking. Finish chewing and swallow before speaking.
11. Do not stretch to get something, rather ask someone politely to pass it to you and remember that politeness is key at the dinner table, so always say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate.
12. Dish up only a small amount of food onto your plate; you can always have more later, but it is rude to dish up too much and then leave food on the plate.
13. Do not make negative comments about food, even if you do not like a particular type of food that is being served. Compliments are fine, but if you do not like a food just pass the serving dish on to the next person without commenting on it.
14. Don’t double dip your food. If you are eating chips or something else with a dip, do not stick the chip in the dip bowl, bite a bit off then stick it in again; rather use a spoon to dish a bit of the dip onto your plate.
15. Do not eat with your hands unless you are eating finger-food such as pizza, spare ribs, or you are having just a casual plate of French fries.
16. Excuse yourself if you need to leave the table for any reason. Just getting up and leaving the table is very bad table manners.
17. Do not play at the table. A dinner table is for eating and engaging in polite conversation, not for playing games, playing with your food or playing games on your cell phone. The table is also not a place to fix your hair, apply make-up or clean your teeth. I f you have to do any of these actions, excuse yourself from the table and go and do them elsewhere.
18. Do not pick food from someone else’s plate. Sampling from Mom or Dad’s plate at home is okay, but doing it in public from anyone’s plate is not good table manners.
19. Do not slurp your liquids; this is a very annoying sound at the best of times and extremely bad table manners.
20. Stay at the table until the meal is over. It is extremely bad table manners to leave the table to go and sit somewhere else or to go and play until everyone at the table is finished eating. Remain at the table and engage in polite conversation even if you have finished eating.
It is important that every parent insist that that their child learns good table manners, even if they are not always enforced at home, as they are an integral part of any adult’s social life and even of their business life, and are easier to teach when young.