“Manners Make the Meal,” Ensign, Oct. 1979, 62
No matter how hard we strived for pleasantness at mealtime, our four children, aged three, four, six, and ten, managed to make it a time of confusion, frustration, and noise—in short, disaster time.
So father and mother held a conference and developed a plan that has produced one hundred percent improvement. First, we established some basic rules:
1. No children (except helpers) are allowed in the kitchen during meal preparation. This eliminates the frustrations caused by whining, hungry children.
2. No one is called to the meal until all the food is on the table and we are ready to eat.
3. No one can leave the table until all are finished eating. (Children seem to eat more of what they should when they know they can’t hurry outside to play.)
4. Even the youngest child is encouraged to help himself. (This seems to eliminate the impatience of waiting for food and then not receiving the right helpings.)
5. At least one meal each week is served on best dishes with a beautifully decorated table.
Next, we devoted four family home evenings to improving table behavior, and had the children participate. These were our lesson plans:
First week—manners. This was taught partly by role playing. One child took the part of a rude child who grabbed and shouted; another was a well-mannered child who said please and thank you. We learned how to use our silverware correctly, to fold our napkins, to be patient, and to compliment the cook and table setter.
Second week—table setting. Our oldest gave a flannelboard demonstration of a correct table setting, using paper cutouts. Then each of us drew a table setting on paper. We hung them in the kitchen to help the children remember how to set the table.
Third week—mealtime conversation. We discussed pleasant topics of conversation we could use at the table. The children could tell of an experience during the day, or we could discuss some pleasant news item in terms the children could understand. Mom and dad would no longer carry on adult conversation which excluded the children.
Fourth week—reward and review time. We had improved in table manners and mealtime atmosphere so much that we planned a trip to a restaurant to show off our new capabilities. In addition, I prepared a flip chart of vegetables and fruits, a play on words to remind the children of what they had learned. We reviewed it in the car during the ride to the restaurant: Penelope Potato is polite; Cathy Corn makes pleasant conversation; Samuel Squash uses silver properly; Nancy Nuts uses her napkin nicely; and Paul Peas and Tommy Tomato say please and thank you.
We seldom have to remind our children to behave at the table now, because when mealtime becomes fun, the unpleasantness naturally disappears. It has also inspired me to provide better and more attractive meals, and mealtime has become a special family get-together time for us. Carolyn Christensen, Sandy, Utah