Good table manners are a part of good child care: teaching children to sit, use a fork and a spoon properly and ask politely for the things they need.
But with parents on the go, quick-fix meals, fast food on the fly and carry-in pizza in front of the TV, just asking a child to sit down at a table for more than 20 minutes can be a struggle.Remember, children will always exhibit some crazy stuff while they are learning. They will squirm. They will play with nearly everything - most of which will find its way to the floor. They will repeatedly say, "I'm done, I'm done," even when they are not; even before they have food on their plates.
But table manners are important, and there is no better place to reinforce good manners than at day care. When evaluating day care, it's a selling point when a provider says: "We eat a substantial meal at lunch time, and children are expected to sit relatively still and eat."
When you are teaching, remind gently that plates are not Frisbees, forks are not weapons, spoons are not mini-catapults in a food war, and glasses aren't watering cans.
For some reason, children love to spread out when they eat. The bread is always about 9 inches from the plate, Kelly's cheese is on Caleb's plate and no child knows who's supposed to have that chicken leg that suddenly appears in the bread basket.
What children say at the table can be unnerving, too. "I hate that," is a favorite. Encourage them to soften it to: "I don't care for any today."
Children will blurt out the loveliest compliments to the chef, like, "Yuck!" You must be consistent and insistent. Here are some tips:
- Once a child sits down, he stays seated until dismissed. No, he may not go to the toilet because that should have been done already. No, he may not get his lucky dragon or let the cat in; those things have to wait.
- Children should face forward, not climb on chairs or under the table to get forks, spoons or napkins. If it drops, that's too bad - do without this time. Next time it won't happen.
- Cups should always be kept above plates. Spills will be cut in half.
- Tell children that tableware is actually a set of food boundaries. Explain that plates are individual corrals. Telling children to corral all their food on their own plate will make you happy.
- Give children enough space to eat comfortably, and try to have tables and chairs fit them.
Day cares and schools should be places where children are expected to behave like ladies and gentlemen, where good manners are expected.