Paul: So, Vicki, here's the thing. Kids don't come pre-programmed to follow all of your rules and especially when it comes to something like table manners.
Vicki: All manners are learned.
Paul: If you don't believe this, just watch your animals.
Vicki: Well… Remember that manners are really more related to our culture.
Paul: Manners require a higher level of functioning too, because it has a lot of social innuendo that's woven into it. There's a lot of complexity that goes into manners, etiquette rules of behavior that affect how we interact with other people. Kids don't come by it naturally, so we teach them.
Vicki: Yep. We have to explicitly teach table manners.
Paul: Years ago I got to sing in a choir, and we were singing a song about children. The recurring theme in the song was, “How will they know unless we teach them?”
Paul: I love that and that's exactly what we are talking about. So, let's get into table manners specifically.
Vicki: Yeah. One of the things you are going to want to do is establish an actual mealtime. Now, a lot of people get a little bit of anxiety about the whole mealtime. We are not looking for a beautiful magazine spread for our mealtime.
Paul: No, this is not the Pinterest moment.
Vicki: No. Really the idea of a mealtime is a chance to come together as a family, whatever your family looks like. To have time to talk, debrief the day, and to learn some things. It’s the perfect place to begin teaching table matters.
Paul: Now, Vicki, we have had other conversations about the importance of mealtime and what that does to your family culture and the ability that you have to connect with your kids. We are not even talking about that aspect of mealtime. We are simply using that now as an opportunity to practice something. Vicki, you taught piano lessons to beginning piano students for a lot of years.
Paul: It always blew my mind that somehow this lady is so brilliant she could tell if those kids hadn't practiced. How do you do that, Vicki?
Vicki: Haha, You can tell if we practice something because it becomes a habit, it becomes easier, more natural. And so that is what we are going to do with table manners.
Paul: Beautiful. So, this is the opportunity that you have to practice and whatever you practice, you get better at. Notice I'm talking to you, not your kids. Now, your kids need to practice too. That's where we are going to establish those mealtimes. But honestly this is about training you as a parent to train your kids. Vicki and I just got a new puppy.
Vicki: We go to obedience school. And really it's more for us on how to train our dog than it is for the dog to learn obedience.
Paul: That's exactly what I was thinking about because as owners of the dog, we are the
ones that need to change our behavior and the dog will come into line as we consistently practice the thing that the trainer is teaching us. So, as parents, you are on the front lines for this thing. Your example matters. Your example is what is going to teach them the most. Sometimes kids can't hear what you are saying because what you are doing is so in their face. Model for them the behaviors that you want to see happen.
Vicki: That brings up a great point. You want to get clear about what those behaviors are. Because everybody's family… Remember we said this isn't kind of an innate thing. We have different expectations culturally or socially. So, get really clear on what those manners are that you want to reinforce and teach.
Paul: Vicki, do you remember that show that we've seen a couple of times with the British super nanny?
Paul: A big shout out to the super nanny. One of the things that I really love about her presentations is what we were just talking about. She focuses on training the parents, because her intervention is going to be so brief with those kids. What really is going to make the difference is when the parents change their behavior. And she's very outspoken, she calls it like it is and she tells you when you are out of line. If you are indulging your kid or rescuing them or whatever. Super Nanny did an episode about table manners. Go over and take a look at what she was doing. She had some brilliant ideas about the actual practical teaching of table manners and how we can train our kids. One of the points that she made… And it goes right back to what you were saying, Vicki, be clear about what rules are important to you. This may be cultural and maybe family.
Vicki: I think it's even very specific. I have to share something. This is from when I was a kid, I loved to sing and I think it was rather annoying that I was singing all the time and one of our table manner rules was no singing at the table.
Paul: You had that rule?
Vicki: I'm pretty sure it was specifically so I would stop singing at the table.
Paul: And it's okay for you as a mom or as a dad to totally make up rules. Now, be reasonable but you can make it up. And no singing at the table. How many American families have that as a rule? Or worldwide?
Vicki: Ours did though.
Paul: Yours did. And there was a reason for that. The Super Nanny episode give us an example of a way to make this very concrete, very tangible so that there can be different kinds of conversations about it at the dinner table. Her suggestion was that you make a centerpiece for the table. And again, we are not talking about what you see on Pinterest or Home and Gardens or whatever. You make a centerpiece and in that centerpiece are (in her example) paper flowers that were just fashioned out of construction paper. And on each flower was written one of the rules. So, the rule might be, keep elbows off of the table. Alright, if that's one of your rules, that would go on the flower. In your home, Vicki it would have been… No singing at the dinner table. That's on one of the flowers. It could be appropriate use your silverware.
Vicki: Or swallow before you speak. Yeah, things like that. Remember we said we are training the parents, one of the beautiful things about having this visual is the reminder for the parent of the rules you've decided to focus on as well as modeling for the children what to be doing.
Paul: Right. The thing I love about this kind of an approach, and it could be the flowers but you could have paper plates set at different places on the table and each one has a rule written on it, some physical representation of the rule because we are going to use those physical representations of the rule in our practice. Let's just say that we are having dinner and Vicki pops off with a song. She just breaks forth into singing as she has been known to do. Okay, now if I'm the father and Vicki starts singing and that is one of our rules, I can simply pull out that little paper flower out of the centerpiece and set it right there in front of Vicki. Or pull that plate off the table. Whatever it is you are using. Once it is placed in front of Vicki, her awareness is called back to the rule.
Paul: We can also use this in a way that we can say, “Let's pick a rule and see how we are all doing with that for lunch today.” And then you just pull a rule out. It might be play with toys not food. You might have a daughter over there playing with her food. We ran into this a couple of times. Our daughter is an artist. Let's just say food is a legitimate medium for art. Anyway, what if your rule is, “Play with toys, not food?” Then you could pull that out and you could have a little discussion about what that means with the family.
Vicki: You know what I love about this is it gives you a chance to really review your own manners, because we talked at the very beginning that example is one of the best ways to teach. I know that many families have a, “no cell phone at the table,” rule. And we have kind of toyed with that at different times, and I found myself grabbing the phone to check something. It's a good reminder for us also. How often have you gone to a restaurant and you see a couple on a date and they have spent zero time looking at or talking to each other, just on their phones. So, we are teaching this etiquette of how to behave when in a social situation with another person. It might seem a little silly that we are addressing this, but it really is important and we have kind of lost this civil social connection.
Paul: I like the way you put that Vicki. Because it really is about civility, and also self-regulation. If you pull up that rule and say, “How's everybody doing with it?” What parent doesn't wish their child could be better at self-regulating? And so, it gives them a chance to do some self-evaluation and regulating of their behavior.
Vicki: These skills that they are learning at the dinner table will generalize to other areas of their life. And that I think is the point that you are making. It will help them with their relationships, with their schoolwork, with getting along in social situations. There are so many reasons to pay attention to mealtime manners.
Paul: So, we've got a little challenge for you. Take the family out to dinner. Can you do that?
Vicki: After you practice.
Paul: Oh, yeah. You might want to practice some of what we talked about. Take them out to dinner and let's see how this goes. Leave some comments down below and let's interact with each other a little bit to see if we can help each other to really get this positive parenting thing down.