If watching your child eat reminds you of Conan the Barbarian, you have some work to do.
The purpose of manners has always been to put the comfort of others above your own. It is a noble pursuit, allows social interaction to be pleasant, stops the spread of sickness, and teaches all to be generous and self disciplined.
While out, consider the furniture, paint, and sensibilities of your host. It takes time, work, and expense to offer hospitality to friends and family, and it is only reasonable to observe the obligations on yourself as a guest.
Consider these points when next you are out with your children.
Before you arrive…
- Have your children sleep, or at least rest quietly in the afternoon; tired children will find it harder to behave and it is unreasonable to expect their best behaviour when bed is what they need.
- Pack a small bag of toys or activities if the home you are going to does not have children. A bag of items, kept in the car and specifically for this purpose, will have the novelty to keep your young child busy longer.
- Talk to your child on the way about how to address and greet the host. Even very small children can be taught the importance of this courtesy.
- If you know your child is extremely finicky about food, or has special dietary requirements, it is kinder to inform your host in advance; take a sandwich for very young children.
- A drink with a sipper cup attachment will help save carpets at your host’s home.
- Make your child aware that even if you allow running in the house, or jumping on the furniture, it is not acceptable in another’s home.
When you arrive…
- Help you child greet the host. Older children should also greet the parents, even if they have friends at the home and are eager to be off with them.
- Ask your host which areas of the home children may play in. If bedrooms and study are off limits, see your child respects that.
- Find the bathroom and show your child where it is.
At the table…
- Very young children often take a piece of something, take a bite, and throw it on the floor while reaching for another of the same. If your child tries something and doesn’t want it, don’t allow him to continue sampling the same thing. It is wasteful and disheartening to the person providing it.
- Watch that young children don’t take a bite of something and put it back on the plate. While you may be content to eat food your child has chewed, no one else should be expected to.
- Older children, out of courtesy, should at least sample the food on their plates. If they can’t bear to eat something, a simple, “No thank you Mrs__”, will suffice. Detailed explanations of how horrible something is, are hurtful to the person who chose to serve it.
- No one likes to find bread posted in the lounge cushions, chips squashed into the carpet, or greasy finger marks over the walls. Don’t allow your child to roam around the house with food.
- It should be obvious, but if you cannot keep your child from climbing on the table, or the kitchen benches, have them sit in your lap and hold them there until they are ready to go and play. Few hostesses would be relaxed while toddlers climb the dining horizons.
- If you have a young child who is not eating with the rest of the party, be aware of where they are in the house, both for their safety and that of the items they may encounter.
- Teach children to turn their heads and cover mouths if they need to cough or sneeze suddenly. If possible, it is preferable to leave the table, and return after washing your hands.
- If your children are young, in consideration of them make it an early night. While most little ones are able to behave when taught to do so, there is a limit to what they are able to bear.
As you leave…
- Find out if there are toys or games to pack away. It is only reasonable to help tidy what you have played with.
- Have children thank your host for having you. Even if you didn’t enjoy what was served, you can appreciate the effort it takes to prepare a meal and be gracious about that.
These small courtesies will come more naturally to your child if you are aware of them in your own home. A practice night, perhaps once a week, allows your child an opportunity to learn the respect and courtesy of social graces at home.
Any effort to engender gentle behaviour in your children will bring joy to you and those around you, as well as give your child a confidence in dealing with social situations as they arise throughout their lives.