Good and proper table manners should be inculcated in children from an early age, so they become a habit. Here are some tips on table manners that you can get your children started on.
Messy eating will happen.
Children are messy eaters. There, we said it!!
And there is very little you can do about it. This is a result of various factors. One of the biggest reasons, is that young children in particular are still acquiring the motor skills required to eat. Whether eating with the hand or eating with a fork or spoon, the number of muscular actions required and the coordination required between them is very high. Only as children mature, do these motor skills develop enough to support the physical requirements for eating food. So don't focus exclusively on the mess that is made. In many cases, these physical skills may not fully develop till a child is even 8 years old. So expecting a young child to be as clean as you is only going to result in disappointment and frustration for you and the child. Keep encouraging them to eat carefully but do not focus exclusively on it.
Most of the time, you should be focusing on the basic table manners. The earlier you start educating your child about good table manners, the better. Many of these good manners are a matter of habit and once the wrong habit is formed, it becomes difficult to undo. So what are these basic table manners. Read on....
Chew with a closed mouth
How many times have we sat at a table and found it distasteful when someone nearby makes loud noises when they chew. They are doing it subconsciously and the habit has become hardened. To avoid this , start early and keep reminding your child to chew with their mouth closed. As with other advice, children may not do it right the first time you tell them what to do. But with constant reminders, to "Please keep your mouth closed when you chew", they will understand it and learn it.
Speak when the mouth is empty
Meal times are also about conversation. And while it is important to spend the time having a great dialogue with kids, remind them to "Speak when the mouth is empty". If they talk when they have food in their mouth, tell them "I cannot understand you when you speak with food in your mouth. I will wait. Please talk when your mouth is empty". Similarly, if they ask you a question when you are chewing, you can tap your mouth and sign them to wait till you finish chewing.
Take small bites, chew food well and eat at a normal pace
Children can often be in a hurry during meals or may put large quantities of food into their mouth. You can help them by asking them to eat at a normal pace (not fast), chew through the food fully and take only small bites. You can help the latter by teaching them to how to cut or by cutting up some of the larger pieces before you serve it to them.
Educate them about gobbling food. Tell them that the body may not be able to get all the nutrients from food that has not been well chewed.
To help them eat at a normal pace, remind them to take a small break between each mouthful. For example, if they are eating with a spoon, teach them to put their spoon down when they are chewing. Then when they are done chewing, they can pick it up again and take the next bite.
Put food inside your mouth, do not suck it in
This is another good table manner that is very important. When eating, teach children to put the food into their mouth and then close their mouths. Often with liquids like soup or foods like noodles, this is difficult and many children and adults "slurp" up the food. Teach children to put their spoonful of food or soup inside their mouth, close it and then slowly withdraw the spoon. This will make it unnecessary for the child to suck in the food.
Wait for everyone to be served before starting to eat
Children can often be in a hurry to eat as soon as some food appears on their plate. Remind them to wait till everyone has been served as that is the polite thing to do.
When you need something that is out of reach, ask someone to help you, nicely
Today many of us in urban families, put all our food in the middle of the table, and eat together (when possible). In this arrangement, the food that a child wants maybe out of reach. Instead of reaching over someone else to grab it, teach children to ask for it politely - "Please can I have the Rajma" or "Please can I have the curds".
Other important manners include:
- Wait in the queue for your turn, at buffets
- Spoons, forks and plates are for eating, not for playing music
- Sit straight, at the dining table
- If you have to burp, cover your mouth and then say "Excuse me". Move on after that.
- And of course, always say please and thank you
Table manners take a long time to develop but once they become a habit, they stick to children for a lifetime. It also takes a lot of reminding from parents, for children to remember their good manners. You may notice, that many of the manners listed above are written in a positive, action oriented manner. This is to remind you to speak about manners in a positive way, emphasizing what the child should do rather than telling them what not to do.
Appreciate good table manners
Whenever your child exhibits good manners, complement them. Do not focus only on what is missing. It is also important to positively reinforce in your child, the good table manners. With your steady help, your child will learn good table manners that will be with them for the rest of their lives. As for the messy eating, as they physically mature and learn good table manners, they will fix it themselves.