Napkin in the Lap and Elbows off the Table

Most adults can remember their mom saying, “Get your elbows off the table” or “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”  Now as parents we’re echoing our mom’s orders to our own children. 

To make mealtime with the kids more enjoyable, have the kids learn these simple table manners. 

  • Learn the proper way to set the table.  Create a customized placemat to show the proper placement of plate, silverware, napkin and glass.  Your little ones will know which glass or napkin belongs to them.  (See side bar for instructions.)
  • Unfold a napkin gently.  Don’t snap it open or wave it like a flag.  Place the unfolded napkin in the lap.  Use it to dab over th e mouth.  Refrain from using it to wipe the face or blow the nose.  Go to the restroom instead.  If you get up from the table and you’re not finished with dinner, leave the napkin on the chair.  When you’re finished with the meal, place the napkin on the table as a signal that you’re finished.
  • Be polite about the food that is being served. Whether the kids like the entrée or not, mom had taken time out of her busy schedule to prepare the meal.  Remind kids that being thankful for the food served is common courtesy to the cook and negative comments can hurt the cook’s feelings.
  • Ask to have an out-of-reach item passed.  Don’t reach over someone’s plate to get the salt, pepper or any other item. A sleeve could end up in someone’s gravy or worse yet a glass of milk could end up in someone’s lap.
  • Wait until everyone is served before eating.  Sure, hungry pains and a plateful of delicious food could have a little one digging in, but you’ll want to teach him it is proper manners to wait. Now if it’s a buffet style meal, he can definitely dig in.
  • Break off one piece of bread at a time.  Always break off a small piece to butter and eat.  Never butter the entire piece of bread and eat it whole. 
  • Eat food with a fork.  Big boys and girls eat with their silverware and only babies eat with their fingers.  Of course, there is an exception.  Some food, such as a hot dog on a bun, is meant to be eaten with the fingers. 
  • Chew food with mouth closed.  Yuck.  Sure kids go through stages where they find this funny.  However, it’s gross to see someone’s food being chewed across the table.  A similar manner seems to be a mom’s favorite scolding.  Don’t talk with food in the mouth.  Talking with food in the mouth can have food falling out of the mouth and onto the plate.
  • Take your time eating.  Don’t gobble down the food as if this was a marathon.  The dinner table is one place that speed doesn’t count.
  • Keep fingers off of someone else’s plate.  Sure grandma’s plump strawberries look temping, but remind your little ones to ask before taking. 
  • Go to the restroom to remove something from the teeth.  No one wants to see fingers or a toothpick digging into the teeth of the person across from them.
  • Thank the cook for the dinner.  Thanking mom or dad for the meal shows appreciation and consideration. 

Dining with Others

     As children grow and make friends, they’ll receive invitations to have dinner at a friend’s house.  As children start to dine with others, Amy Mills Tunnicliffe, founder of The Proper Manner, believes children should know what their responsibilities are as a good guest. 

Tunnicliffe and offers these tips:

  • Wait for the host to begin the meal.
  • Observe and follow the customs of the host family
  • Sample what the host is serving or decline politely if there is truly an allergy issue.
  • Don’t ask for something they don’t see on the table.
  • Offer to help with clearing the table and cleaning up the kitchen.
  • Compliment the host whether you liked the meal or not.  Say thank you for the meal as well as the time spent with the family.

Fun Game to Learn Manners

Games can be a great resource for teaching children.  Public relations expert Robin Nolan offers one of his favorite games he calls “Bad Manners.” To play, Nolan designated one person in the family to eat with bad manners.  However, this is kept as a secret to the rest of the family so no one else knows.  At dinnertime, watch how everyone else reacts to the bad manners.  Then, after the fact, discuss all the bad manners the designated person used and why.  Nolan suggests parents do this over a couple of weeks and watch the bad manners vanish.

     One Last Thought

     Amy Mills Tunnicliffe believes the easiest way to teach children good manners is by constant and consistent repetition and family dinners.  The dinner table is the center of the family and it’s the forum in which we learn table manners, communications skills, and strengthen family ties.  The family dinner hour should be sacred.

 Customized Placemat

Teach children how to set the table by making a fun placemat.  Cut an 11- by 15-inch rectangle out of a piece of poster board or heavy cardboard. Have the kids draw a plate in the middle, a napkin with a fork in the center of it to the left of the plate, a knife next to the plate with the ridged edge facing the plate on the right and a spoon next to the knife.  (One way to have the kids remember the fork is on the left is by reminding them that fork is spelled with four letters and so is left.  Spoon and knife are spelled with five letters.  Right is spelled with five letters, too.)  Trace a circle to above the spoon and knife.  A bread and butter plate will go to the left of the plate above the fork and napkin.  Allow kids to color the placemat any way they want.  Once the artists have finished their masterpieces, cover them with thin clear adhesive paper found in the housewares department at most stores or have it laminated at a copy center.

  • Excerpted with permission from The Frantic Woman’s Guide to FeedingFamily and Friends
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