Polite Table Behaviour For Children By The Pleasant Times Resident Etiquette Expert Etiquette books and columns in magazines abound in good advice for making meals pleasant, and not offending others by your eating habits. It is unnecessary that I should give basic table manners here. However, it has been pointed out to me that there are a few things that little children should be reminded of constantly to help them learn polite behaviour at the table. Therefore, this shall not be a thorough lecture, but just a little one in order to point out these few things.
The Family Meal
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One of the chief things that I Insist on is that children sit "square on their chair." This I find is not a concept easily remembered. No sliding off the edges, no sitting precariously on one corner, or seated on one side, with a leg here and another there. No sliding around, either, and of course no leaning the chair backwards. Children must sit in such a way as to keep them from falling off, whether by accident or by design.
This goes for adults as well, who will persist leaning their chairs backwards, not only at home but in public places such as church. No, no!
The chair should stay put on the floor, except when you need to slide it in to get in or out of it. And when you do get in or out, slide the chair easily and do not rock it back and forth as if it was wedged in something. If it is too heavy for a child, they should ask for assistance, and not try and squeeze themselves in between a tucked-in chair and the table!
Now, on to the meal. Of course many of us know not to talk with our mouths full, and to chew with our mouths closed, elbows off the table, etc. However, I must make a comment about the trip the food makes from the plate to the fork and then to the mouth. Make sure that no food drops off the fork onto the floor or the table! If you are in the habit of dropping food, you may be trying to take too much at once to transport to your mouth, or eating too quickly. Dropping food is a terrible waste as well as a mess. Care should be taken to eat a bit slower and pay attention to the flight of the fork or spoon.
Comments about the food should follow the rule, "if you cannot say anything nice, do not say anything at all." One must not say "This is YUCKY!" or "I ate everything on my plate, except this stuff, it smells bad" or "There is a bug in my salad!" Silence is best on any undesirable finds about the meal. Cooks can get hurt feelings by such rude comments, even if said in perfect ignorance and innocence. Gross comments can also make younger fellow diners abandon the meal before it is fairly begun.
Lunch in the Garden
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Though most do not notice the difference in the words "finished" and "done," I have heard someone say that they do not like children to say "I'm done!" but rather "I'm finished" with the meal. I suppose a well-cooked meat dish is "done," and to say that you are done would imply that you are fully cooked (?). It does sound a little bit nicer to announce that you are finished with your meal, and "may I please be excused" is of course better than running away unannounced.
Speaking of running away, some smaller children enjoy taking a few bites, getting down and running away, then coming back to start their game over again. Best to nip this in the bud.
Little children can be so excited about a meal, or about the day, or about each other, that they will not always remember these things. One does not want to be saying "chew with your mouth closed" for the thousandth time (falling on deaf ears), or make an upsetting etiquette transgression court case and punishment the mealtime routine. Do not weary! A gentle reminder now and then will not harm anyone, indeed, it is quite necessary. Someday your child will want to learn pleasant eating skills, as they become more self-conscious about the Art of Eating in Polite Society.
Manners for Children
Manners for Boys