In a recent survey of 2000 parents and 1000 children, 62% of participants considered traditional table manners unnecessary; old fashioned even. Worse still, the survey found that by trying to implement table manners, meal times descended into battlegrounds. So does this mean that meal times should be conducted without the most basics of manners?
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A half way house for any family could be to decide on what rules and table manners to maintain; and likewise decide on which table manners create more havoc than good and do away with these. Personally, I am still a big fan of teaching my kids table manners, but some of the more draconian measures that my own parents had tried to instill in me have certainly gone out of the window because they just weren't suited to modern family life. Dinner times were traditionally a quiet affair when I was a child, whereas I use meal times as a time to catch up with my family to find out how everyone's day was. I'm also not a fan of eat EVERYTHING on your plate, so this too was struck off my list of family table manners. Instead, I try to encourage my kids to just try everything on their plate. That's good enough for me and it saves arguments.
There are a number of table manners that I have stuck with and here's the reasons why:
Politeness is a valuable skill for life
I would like to still be able to take my kids out to dinner with me and not spend this enjoyable time telling them off.
I'd like my children to be able to go to their friends' houses for a play date and know that they can behave well in the company of others.
I'd like to ensure that they are well prepared for meal times at school, and know how to eat.
Good manners learnt when little, carry a person through into adulthood.
Manners are timeless; they do not grow old.
I don't enjoy watching my kids chew with their mouths open and I certainly don't want them to end up being adults who eat that way either.
So for me, table manners are not outmoded but instead, should evolve to suit every family's needs. It's equally important when setting up what manners you're going to stick with, that you lead by example. Children will follow their parents lead, so make sure you choose table manners that you are all going to follow consistently. Also, pick your battles; if kids are tired or cranky before a meal time you might want to dial down the manners police.
Here are a few manners that I've tried to stick with.
1) Please and Thank You These two little expressions will extend far beyond table manners and meal times are a perfect place to practice using them. Rather than a child making demands for food or drinks, they can learn to ask nicely for what they want, using please when asking, and thank you as a mark of appreciation. Parents can role model these expressions from an early age, saying please and thank you to babies, when passing toys to infants.
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2) Chewing I don't particularly like seeing any child chewing their food with their mouth wide open, it's just not a great view to look out on when you're tucking into your own food. This is a good one to get right from an early age, so parents should teach their child good chewing etiquette. There are a number of adults I've had the misfortune of eating with who definitely didn't master this tip as a child.
3) Speaking with your mouth full Similar to the chewing notion, it's not a great thing to speak with your mouth chock-a-block full of food. Parents can role model this one, in addition to showing kids that they can simply wait until they've eaten what's in their mouth. It's a lesson in patience and consideration of others.
4) Sitting at the table The advent of TV dinners has likely meant that more and more meals are taken away from the table. However, it's really difficult to teach table manners if you're not physically around a table, and it's definitely not easy to conduct a conversation if you're all watching TV. It's a better idea to have dinner around a table, and so that kids stay put and it can also be of value to teach children to ask to leave the table. That way, they're more likely to stay the course and not leave the table until they are actually finished. TV dinners can of course be lots of fun, I'm just not a fan of them for every night of the week.
5) Cutlery Skills Learning how to use the fork, spoon and knife are important life lessons, and one that improves dexterity and motor skills. Obviously, it's something that improves with time, and kids progress from eating with their fingers, to using a fork or spoon with a knife being added at a later stage. It's another skill that children can take with them into adulthood and definitely is one that will give them confidence when eating in public as they are older. Surprisingly, in Sue Palmer's book, 'Toxic Childhood', her survey of UK teenagers found that 20% of teenagers eat with only their fingers rather than cutlery with almost 50% of teenagers using only a fork (no knife). This can lead to future social embarrassments when they might need to eat in a more formal setting.
Whatever table manners you choose to instill in your own household, it is a good idea to start early so that it is all your children have ever known. It's much harder to change behaviours later down the line, so by starting when your children are toddlers, they'll learn the right behaviours and manners from the beginning, and hopefully then younger siblings will follow the role model of both parent and older children.
Do you still think table manners are important, or are they now outdated in your mind?