MANNERS; Children and Meal Time
Does your lifestyle lend itself to family meal time or is dinner a come and go affair designed to work around family members’ varied schedules? It isn’t necessarily a case of “monkey-see, monkey-do” when looking at a child’s table manners in relation to those of his/her parents. The busy lifestyle of today’s average family is not conducive to “sit-down” meals wherein a parent is most apt to notice and take steps to correct unacceptable table manners. More likely, breakfast is a rushed affair with everyone trying to get out the door for work and school, lunch in the school cafeteria, dinner consisting of fare from a fast food restaurant gobbled down in the car traveling to or from after school activities. As with any other acquired trait, good manners do not appear overnight. It can take months to get to the point where a parent doesn’t have to issue daily reminders.
Behavorial Or Medical?
At age 7, my child’s table manners were noticeably lacking. She smacked and chewed with her mouth open and the reminders were never ending. When dining out, rather than embarrass her by commenting aloud, I would quietly gain her attention and then touch my forefinger to the corner of my mouth in our private signal. This alerted her that she was being too noisy with her eating. As time went on, with no marked improvement, we consulted our daughter’s pediatrician and learned that it isn’t always a behavioral problem. It is possible that medical factors enter into the picture. The culprit in her case was swollen nasal passages caused by allergies. This prevented her breathing freely when her mouth was closed, thereby causing part of the problem. Once the allergies were taken care of, we saw a great change. By this time, months had passed and we were feeling fortunate that our younger child had heeded the messages sent his sister’s way and had not developed unacceptable table manners.
Life because so busy that during the months school was in session, we were sharing only one meal per day as a family. It was the evening meal and was typically our time to share the events of the day with one another as we dined. Thinking our table manner problem was behind us, we let down our guard. Its return came as a double whammy. One evening, as our children were regaling us with a replay of their day, sudden awareness came that both children were talking with their mouth full of food and smacking right along. How did this slip by us without notice?
Reviewing what had changed with regard to our meal habits in recent months, we realized that because of our harried mornings, we had allowed the children to begin having breakfast at their school. Since the teachers sat at separate tables during meal time, this amounted to two thirds of their meals being spent dining with children as companions. For breakfast, the school cafeteria opened its doors at 7:45 a.m. and the children had to be on their way to class at 8:00 a.m. sharp. Considered any time subtracted for late arrival, waiting in line and time to open milk/juice cartons, the children were gulping their breakfast in less than 15 minutes. Lunch time allowed was a little longer, but still hurried. Eat fast or don’t eat seemed to be the message getting through.
Take Notice and Implement Change
Unacceptable table manners come in many forms other than chewing with one’s mouth open, talking with a full mouth and smacking. It seems the old adage, “practice makes perfect” would stand us in good stead in teaching children good table manners. The problem is, someone first has to note there is a problem and then be present to supervise practice. Many parents admit that due to conflicting schedules they rarely have “sit-down” meals with all their family members. Grabbing something on the go or plopping in front of the television with a meal seems to be more the norm for many families.
Keeping meals in the proper arena would be the logical first step toward prevention. Facing your children around the dinner table gives a better view and provides more opportunity for direction than does sitting side by side in front of the television or driving down the street as they sit munching away in the back seat. Whatever your child’s table offense may be, try to ascertain its origin and plan your line of defense accordingly. If your children have hurried meals at school, consider sending a packed lunch from home. This may save minutes normally spent waiting in the cafeteria line. Take steps, such as working out a private signal as a reminder, to avoid calling attention to or embarrassing your child, especially when dining with others. Gentle, consistent reminders are called for. Last, but not least, practice what you preach.