One of the best things about writing a book is finding experts in your subject matter, and really getting to know them. This time, I had the pleasure of talking with Joanne Blake, the CEO of Style for Success. Her advice echoes that of Emily Post, making it clear that the best family dining experience, packed with great flavor and even better conversation, is a matter of etiquette!
To begin with, Joanne weighed in on the all too common problem of kids disrupting a nice dinner by asking to go to the bathroom. She recalled delivering a dining etiquette presentation at a restaurant, where a seven year-old girl continually asked to be excused:
“She did this in part to gain my attention,” says Joanne, “and also because she wasn’t keen on eating everything on her plate. In subsequent presentations, I encouraged the children to visit the restroom AND WASH THEIR HANDS before we started the presentation. I explained to them that it was not only good manners, but the hygienic thing to do. I asked them to stay seated until the very end of the meal, prefacing my request with ‘just like the grown-ups do...’.”
Joanne’s experience feeds right into more useful etiquette tips for family dinner time:
- Help Your Child Feel Like a Grown-up. This can be done by minimizing interruptions and excuses to leave the table halfway through the meal. If the child leaves because they don’t like the food, try exposing them to a variety of different foods and veggies, and don’t make a big deal of it if they leave some of it behind. Remember: even adults don’t always clean their plates.
- Explain why it’s important to behave at the dinner table. You can do this by reminding the child that it interferes with everyone’s conversation if they’re constantly getting up to leave, spilling food, or not listening when other people talk. Remind them that they won’t earn their place at “the big people’s table” until they learn to converse cheerfully and eat neatly, i.e. putting a napkin in lap.
- Praise and reinforce good behavior. At the dinner table and beyond, parents should be clear and specific about what their children are doing well. Example: Your picky eater refused to try pineapple until tonight, when you served a side of it with dinner. Alas, she ate the fruit with her fingers instead of using a fork. Resist the urge to correct the mistake, and say instead that you are proud of her for giving a new food a try.
- Remember, Having Good Manners Makes You Savvy, NOT Stuffy. If you want your kids to eat neatly at the dinner table, provide every person with a napkin that covers the entire lap. Just for fun, print a diagram of the way the dinner table should be set and give your youngsters a chance to recreate the picture when they set the table. A great example is this info-graphic from Huffington Post’s piece How To Set a Table Without Being Stuffy. The pictures include settings for both formal and informal dining.
Like this? Look for more great tips in my upcoming book!
Remember that good manners begin at home! Think of your kitchen as a classroom, and let me help you see those lessons through. DINNERTIME: It’s About Food and So Much More will be published in late 2015 by Motivational Press.