It’s that time of year once again. When we gather around the table and enjoy holiday dinner with our extended family.
Joy… right? Ahh, not so much. Especially if you are stressed out about your uncouth 7-year old son’s behaviour. Will he break bread, break wind, or worse, toss bread? Or maybe even pout about hating his gravy touching his peas?
Shouting “Where are your manners?” is just as much a part of the holiday meal as cranberry sauce.
We forget our children have substandard table manners until they’re under scrutiny of company and extended family. Suddenly we think that a stern look or a quiet reminder is somehow going to snap them into shape like yet another Christmas miracle.
Instead we have to invest some time BEFORE the holidays to prepare and train our children in the ways we expect them to behave when we have company. Here’s a quickie dining etiquette course.
Alyson’s Table Manners Bootcamp:
1) Don’t teach table manners during the special occasions. Instead, have some easy family dinners together that are “fancy” in the dining room with china, crystal, and gravy boats on a Sunday night when it’s just your family. Get dressed up. Make it over-the-top fun, like you are actors in a play about movies. “Pardon me, but would you care for some more water with lime in your goblet?”
2) Teach instead of correct. Discuss proper etiquette in a relaxed “did you know” way. Usually we just correct children for their mistakes which they hear as criticism. “Your bread plate is the one on the left” is nicer than “Hey – that’s not your plate, use the other one”.
3) Explain that there are different levels of manners based on the formality of the occasion. It may be okay to skip the napkin when you are eating grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, but Christmas dinner means you need to put the cloth napkin on your lap. Discuss this BEFORE company arrives. If you don’t, your children will think you are inconsistent and are just making up different rules all the time.
4) Create a list of misbehaviours (privately) that you specifically want to parent around – and tackle them NOW.
3 common ones and their solutions are:
1. Interrupting while others are speaking. Try passing around the salt shaker and whoever has the salt shaker has the floor and can speak while others listen. You may also need to bring a timer from a board game to the table to make sure no-one goes on and on (and on) longer than 3 minutes.
2. Getting up and down from the table. Try applying a logical consequence: “ If you get up from the table, that tells me you are done the meal”. If your child opts to get down, so be it. Quietly and calmly remove their plate, and don’t offer alternative food until the next meal time. They’ll soon learn to stay at the dining room table and eat enough to fill their tummy.
3. Bubbling milk and other hijinks. Most dinner disturbances serve to keep the lime light on the child. Instead of responding to misbehaviors with nagging and reminding – ignore poor manners and use distraction to engage the child in a more positive conversation. Ask them about their favorite super hero, or what they want to be when they grow up.
If your children don’t use their proper manners, you can excuse them from the table and invite them to come back when they do want to use their manners. OR, you can excuse yourself and choose to eat in the kitchen where you don’t have to watch bad table manners.
Try some of these in the weeks to come BEFORE the big holiday feast with family. And when in doubt – you can always have the kids and cousins eat on a card table in the basement!
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t Misbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com.