We had lunch at a casual pizza place the other day, but our meal was marred by the behavior of two little girls in a nearby booth. They were having a great time but, unfortunately that involved a lot of loud screeching. At one point, one of them was standing on the seat and waving her pizza slice like a flag. Needless to say, they were quite a distraction.
I think parents today often overlook the importance of teaching their children basic table manners and social skills. We were chatting with our youngest daughter, now 29, recently and she told us one of the things she appreciated about our parenting was our insistence that she and her siblings learn good manners.
She said, “At, the time, I got really annoyed with the constant reminders to keep my arms off the table, chew with my mouth closed and not talk with food in my mouth. But now I really see the value because I find myself comfortable and confident dining with people of any social class.” That comfort and confidence is a gift you can give your children.
Expensive consultants now teach manners courses for young executives who realize that they lack some of the basic social skills—like table manners—which stand in the way of their advancement and success. Shouldn’t parents be teaching them that from the very beginning? And don’t underestimate the value of gentle guidance by grandparents.
Sure, it takes time, attention and persistence. But even young children can be taught to eat with their hands only when it’s something appropriate like corn-on-the-cob or fried chicken. They can be taught “no chewing with your mouth full,” or , “no talking with food in your mouth,” and “arms off the table and napkin in your lap.” They can be taught to engage in table conversation with the rest of the family—with no interrupting. This requires regular dining as a family, both at home and occasionally in restaurants.
Kids also need to be taught appropriate behavior in public, such as restaurants and places of worship. For instance, running around and loud talking aren’t appropriate. If kids haven’t been taught to behave in social situations, they risk annoying others and not being welcome. And if the parents don’t maintain control, they may even be reprimanded by strangers (I’ve done it) for really inappropriate behavior which disturbs others. I don’t think we want any of those things for our kids.
Similarly, teaching them to share, to acknowledge gifts and respond appropriately to introductions will pay off as they become older and enter the adult world. Etiquette exists for a reason and it exists in all cultures because it lubricates our social interactions and helps us to get along. And don’t we all want our children growing up to be comfortable and successful in social situations?
Teaching our children manners is really one of the responsibilities of good parenting. It makes life more pleasant for you, your child, and others. And it will stand them in good stead as adults.
Mary Waldmann's expertise as a speech writer and media expert spans over 30 years including among other roles Public Affairs Director for the US Department of Commerce during the Reagan Administration. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media , Six-Word Lessons for Intentional Parenting, and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.