Life’s little things

Improving children’s table manners

My friend has three children and we continually swap stories about the joys and challenges of raising our young families. She is an avid reader and absorbs parenting books at a ferocious rate.

Her children have learned to expect a new focus from Mum each time she finishes reading something she has found particularly informative. Her seven year old son recently said “Mum can you stop reading those books; they are giving me a headache!” One of her bugbears is table manners. She can’t stand elbows on the table, eating with your mouth open or slouching over the table.

Her latest mission is improvement in her children’s table manners but I cannot hear the words ‘table manners’ without remembering last year’s school nativity production called Stable Manners; this was an all too accurate representation of some of the eating events in our house.

I know that I too need to tackle this slide in standards in our home and put into practice the books she has kindly loaned me: Table Manners for Children, Table Etiquette For Families, they all presuppose the existence of a table, and therein lies my problem.

Our kitchen table often serves as a homework desk, dolls hospital, a home for Lego and play dough creations and general receptacle for toys and books and household miscellany.

I know my mother who sighs in despair at what she kindly calls the higgledy-piggledy state of affairs in our home would suggest clearing it off at each meal time and putting things back in their proper places.

Existence of a table

Again I would point out that this presupposes the existence of a proper place in which to put everything and a willingness to engage in an endless cycle of tidying. It seemed easier to accept the loss of the table and install a kitchen counter to be kept toy free and to serve as our general eating space. Big mistake. Table manners have taken a turn for the worse as formal dining arrangements become less important than who has the most elbow room.

We try in vain to keep our arms and legs out of one another’s plates as we perch precariously around a piece of wood more suited to serving as an ironing board than a dining table. Unfortunately we have placed the counter in such a way as to make any attempts at reinstating a dining table impossible. So we are stuck with relearning table manners a la kitchen counter top.

One good thing is that there is never any need to ask ‘please pass the salt’ as the salt and pretty much everything else is always within easy reach. We could opt to eat buffet style, fajitas and finger food off napkins or heaven forbid in front of the TV, my children would love it but the skill to sit and eat with any degree of refinement may be lost forever.  My nephew told me that for his 11th birthday his parents held a dinner party for him with their friends.  My children are terrific company and eat pretty much everything put in front of them, but a formal dinner party? I shudder to think.

When we use a tablecloth my children ask “is someone special coming for dinner-dinner?”

Dinner-dinner is proper Christmas-type dinner where we use a gravy boat and butter dish. It is not a dinner made entirely in one pot, covered in tomato sauce or served with pasta. It most definitely is eaten at a table.

I really must make a start on those books; they, might give me an idea of where I can buy a table cloth to fit an ironing board.