Opportunities to model and teach social skills and manners to our kids are everywhere. They happen naturally in everyday life, and parents can be intentional to make some happen, too. One easy place to teach manners is at the family dinner table during meal-time.
Table manners get overlooked these days because so many of us are on the go. We eat in our cars or in front of the television where it's more difficult to teach the manners and social skills that our kids need.
Meal-time manners are an absolutely essential social skill.
Our children need to be able to handle family dinners and gatherings. The manners they learn as kids will extend to their business lunches, networking parties, and other functions involving meals when they are adults. Parents need to intentionally teach kids good table manners and how to make small talk so they are prepared for these situations.
Family dinners are the most obvious opportunity to practice and teach table manners. It's also a great time to help kids practice how to participate in conversations. Families are busy with work and kids' activities, so it's important to purposely set aside at least a couple evenings each week to eat a meal together. If dinners are impossible, maybe a breakfast or weekend brunch would be better. Regardless of which meal it is, gather the family together around the table for a family meal on a regular basis.
Sit down and eat the meal together as a family. Work on basic table manners like asking for and passing food, saying please and thank you, keeping arms off the table and napkins in the lap, chewing with mouths closed, and not talking with food in the mouth. Manners like these are generally not taught in school, so as parents we need to do it. Be intentional. Observe your kids' current manners and help them make adjustments. Make mental notes during the meal and later discuss with your kids how they can improve.
During the meal, have a good conversation. Ask each other questions. Tell stories from your day. Stick to one conversation at a time so no one is talking over other people. Try asking questions that cannot be answered with one word. Eat slowly, and make the discussion the focus of the meal. Tell a silly joke. Whatever works. Don't give up if this does not go well right away. It's a process and may take some time, but kids definitely need to know how to speak to others politely and appropriately. Teach them, help them improve, and continue to work on it.
Make the commitment to yourself and your family to teach your kids these important social skills.
If we want kids to become productive adults, we must teach them basic social skills like meal-time manners. It's absolutely essential. It takes time and some course-correction along the way. Instruct your kids, model the desired behaviors, and be encouraging. You'll be preparing them to be successful in their future adult life.