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Unlike my husband and myself, my children were born and raised here, and I want to prepare them for fitting in to social situations as well as at work and on interviews. I worry they don’t have proper table manners. Are there basics my children, who are still in school, should know? If so, I want to know what they are.
–SS, Providence, RI
The 6 Basic Table Rules*The biggest deterrent to good table manners is the cellphone. The reason many more families are unplugging their EarPods and leaving cellphones in a designated location away from the table before sitting down to a family meal is to encourage conversation. Despite the fact that a telephone survey last summer by the New York Times found that when asked: Are Phones Off Limits at the Table? 61% answered 'No.' 34% answered 'It Depends.' Realistically, are you in that 5% that answered 'Yes'? *Know how to use utensils. With the temptations of fast-foods and finger foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, pizza, burritos, pop tarts, wraps and sandwiches, etc., a lot of kids don't know how to use a knife, fork, spoon or chopsticks. Watching TV while eating isn't an excuse for not using utensils. Actors and talking heads don't have the best table manners either when they're waving their fork as if it were a flag. Like most skills, maneuvering utensils takes dexterity. Like all early milestones, some children master the skill early, others take longer. Adults are the best role models. Do they use utensils with care -- or do they wave utensils like flags or scrape or pound them like drums on the plate or bowl in a way that is sure to disrupt the conversation? No need to eat with two hands at once, the food will still be there:
Learn to bring your food to your mouth, and not lower your mouth to the plate. If you eat spaghetti like this,
your daughter may eat like that.*Consideration starts with elbows off the table. Imagine at the dinner table if everyones' arms wrestled for space on the table for their two elbows. That's how accidents happen and when tempers fly. No elbows on the table and keep hands in your lap when they aren't navigagting a utensil. The napkin is to protect clothing from becoming soiled from sticky hands, so use it. Place the napkin over your lap before the food arrives. Once a utensil has been used, leave it on the plate so as not to dirty the table. When excusing yourself from the table leave your loosely folded napkin to the left of your place setting (if you aren't clearing the table).
What's wrong with this picture?*Watch your mouth. Never use words such as sh*t, f*ck, and b*tch, because it is offensive to those around you. Nobody wants to watch you or listen to you chewing, so keep your mouth closed while eating. Nobody can hear what you're saying when you talk with your mouth full of food. Plus, it can spray and spot your clothing -- or that of the person next to you. Try to abstain from licking your fingers and picking at your teeth. When you want to get rid of a piece of gristle, discreetly place it on the side of your plate with your fork. *Keep your hands to yourself, preferably in your lap when you're not eating and don't snitch fries from Johnny's plate or you'll cause a rumble. No matter how irresistible, never feed the dog table scraps from your plate. It's gross. *Cooperate with team spirit when you're asked to hand the salt or pass the ketchup. You do it for him, he'll do it for you. This is the place, in family space, to ingrain the magic of 'please' and 'thank you.' Before heading to retrieve your cellphone, you should clear your plate, glass, and utensils and place them in the kitchen sink or dishwasher.