For a parent, holiday entertaining comes with the hopes that the children will make a good impression on our guests. A holiday meal however, isn't the time to give your child a manners 101 class. If you are concerned about how your children are likely to behave at the table, start talking about dinner manners well in advance of the holiday. Once the special day arrives, you can focus on making memories and enjoying your family and guests rather than manners and making sure everyone eats all of their vegetables.
Having special "good manners nights" before the holidays is a good way to emphasize etiquette ahead of time. This can be a fun family time in which everyone practices using their best dining skills. For a special touch, eat by candlelight. Have your children rehearse the role of being a good guest and host. Some basic dining manners to practice include: coming to the table neat and tidy, holding utensils properly and using them for the correct dishes, keeping your napkin on your lap, sitting up straight in your chair with your feet on the floor, keeping elbows off the table, and, even if it is the worst dish on earth, avoiding rude comments or noises. It is also good for kids to remember that when in doubt, they should replicate the manners of the grown ups, or at least the ones with manners! After these practice dinners, no one should leave the table until everyone is finished. Remind the children to thank and compliment the "chef". Don't be surprised if these "good manners nights" become a family favorite.
By working on one new etiquette rule at a time you will avoid overwhelming your child.
A good starting point is giving your kids the right words to use. For instance, ask them to say "I don't care for any" rather than announcing they hate cranberries. When they know which words can cause hurt feelings they are much more likely to avoid them. Share with your child that manners are about being considerate of others.
There are also fun ways to reward kids for using good manners. One idea is to give each child a cup with several nickels in it. For each correct manner they earn another nickel. They must watch out for bad manners because they lose a nickel for each offense. Allow them to build up their "nickel bank" until after the holidays when they will be turned over to them to keep..
Keep in mind that by eliminating possible causes of bad behavior you can help to ensure a holiday success. Making sure they get a good night's sleep the night before and have been well nourished that day can do wonders. Also consider including child-friendly food on your menu and having appetizers available to keep children from becoming famished while waiting for the meal to be served. This works for husbands too!
Children thrive on routine yet holidays are usually anything but routine. However, by preparing them ahead of time problems can be avoided. Discuss holiday plans with your children and tell them how the day is planned and how they are expected to behave. If you set high expectations for mannerly behavior, children's manners will come closer to the mark. Although setting a good example will help, children will likely see bad examples on television or in public that are not acceptable in your family. Therefore, they must know that you will not accept these behaviors. Give gentle reminders in private when necessary since the dinner table is not the best place for disciplining kids. By implementing some of these ideas in advance, hopefully your holidays will be more enjoyable.
Teri Sutton, Once Upon a Time...