Did your holiday dinner -- for which you had the highest hopes -- consist of 12 screaming tantrums, 11 refusals to eat, 10 sibling scowls, 9 bangs on the table, 8 dirty looks from your elders, 7 spilled glasses, 6 bites of your meal, 5 cell phone rings...? You get the picture. Welcome to the modern dinner table! You are not alone.
Many parents are at their wit's end with their child's utter lack of manners and complete ignorance of ettiquette. If you're among them, meet the new approach to teaching kids manners, recently featured in the NY Times: a mix of ettiquette classes for kids and assimilating them into adult restaurants and environments (essentially, a return to old-school, no-nonsense parenting -- with a grain of salt).
Ettiquette classes for children are nothing new. But today's ettiquette teachers have a somewhat different approach: show kids the way to be proper and polite, explain the benefits (mainly that it makes Mom happy and it might get you more play dates!), and not push it 24/7. That last part is key, the experts say, because our culture has become so casual that kids won't respond to a complete U-turn in expectations and constant nagging.
The other new (but old) school of thought on teaching kids ettiquette is to bring them to grown-up restaurants (and we're not talking Chili's or Applebee's) and expect them to behave. Some high-end restaurants in big cities, such as Chenery Park in San Francisco, are opening their doors kids on designated "family nights," making parents feel more welcome to bring their youngsters -- as long as they're good little dinner guests. Nobody's perfect; kids might have the occasional spill, or breach the no-whining rule for a minute, but if they're not on their best behavior overall, they might be shown the door. Taking cues from their quiet and refined surroundings, most kids catch on pretty quickly -- this is no place for yelling or using my spoon as a drumstick.
The old approach to parenting -- expecting kids to mingle with and behave like adults all the time -- was probably too strict. But we're finding out that today's "let kids be kids" philosophy has also gone too far. How do you find a happy (and polite) medium?
Assuming you may not want to fork over $300 for an ettiquette class, here are some free resources:
- How Rude! An Age-by-Age Guide to Teaching Kids Manners
- The Magic Words: Teaching Your Toddler Manners
- Table Manners Quiz for Kids and Parents
- Table Manners FAQs
- Facing a Formal Dinner Gracefully (Etiquette Tips for Adults)
- Family Dinners: The Recipe for Connectedness
- More on Teaching Kids Manners
- More on Behavior & Discipline