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Are we really raising narcissists who eat like Alsatians?

Really must stop reading the paper over the shoulder of fellow commuters on my way into work.  Not just because people get upset when they realise what you’re doing but mostly because I find myself reading things I’d usually cross the road to avoid.

I read in the Telegraph one parent’s use of an etiquette expert to stop her children being “narcissists who eat like Alsatians”.  It wasn’t the use of an etiquette expert that shocked me, more that she had got to the stage where her children had no table manners and could just snatch food at will.  And these weren’t toddlers.  The youngest is 4 and the eldest 9.

I am probably being horribly middle class about this but there is no way I would allow my children to act like that at home, let alone in public.

Admittedly the girls are still young but at 2 and three and a half they have to sit nicely at the table.  Admittedly they don’t have to sit there whilst parents linger over a meal but they are expected to eat nicely and to be polite.  Bigger has to use a knife and fork and both have to use spoons where they can.  Yes we have done baby led weaning so their preference is for fingers but they know that spoons are for porridge and fingers for toast.  They are also expected to say please and thank you, wait for the other to finish before saying thank you for their meal and asking to get down.  Nicely.

Am I alone in this?
Surely table manners are incredibly important.
I can still remember watching a junior colleague eat lunch, his mouth wide open, elbows on the table whilst pointing his knife at someone – he may have let his guard down momentarily and actually had good manners deep down but I made a mental note to not let him eat infront of anyone important just in case.

Perhaps etiquette experts are not the answer, perhaps the answer is far simpler.  Maybe we need to accept that table manners are learnt every single day in the heart of a family.  And if we don’t show by example, our children don’t stand a chance of learning how to do things properly.

Yes mealtimes can be battlegrounds but don’t we owe it to our children to teach them, ourselves, how to behave properly?

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20 comments to Are we really raising narcissists who eat like Alsatians?

  • claire

    I think it all probably stems from the fact that the ‘family meal’ is no longer a given – in many, not all households. Meals on laps in front of the television seem to be the norm.
    And, as usual, the responisbilty should lie with the parents – therefore I would question the mother in the article how she let her children get to that stage, and maybe it’s her that needs a parenting coach?
    Like you, my 4yo sits at the table (and we always eat together), uses a knife, fork and spoon and always says “thank you, please may I get down?” when he has finished.
    Table manners, like good manners in general are incredibly important, I think.
    But then maybe it all comes down to the fact that some (and again I stress) some parents think it’s all someone else’s responsibility to teach their children morals, manners and god behaviour?

    • That’s a real shame if family meals are dying out – surely much nicer to sit around a table than slouch infront of the TV (and what about the mess???)

      I agree – the mother in question sounds like she needs some help rather than standing by going ‘gosh aren’t they terrible’

  • Hear hear. The only way to teach children good manners is to demonstrate good manners. We eat all our meals at the table with the TV off. My children wouldn’t dream of just helping themselves to food. They are not angels, but we work hard to show them how we would like them to behave. Manners maketh man.

    • Exactly – you can’t survive in the wider world if you have awful manners, it is a fundamental skill that children need and that we have to teach them (even if I do get sick of don’t stab your sister with your fork, don’t pour your drink on the floor etc)

  • I agree manners are huge.

    But, with a fantastically fussy eater on my hands, I have had to put the manners onto a back burner whilst we deal with just getting him to eat. There’s only so many battles I can fight at once!

    That said, I do take particular pleasure in having my children say ‘thank you very much for my lovely supper, please may I get down’ at the end of each meal, even if it was a supper they clearly thought was inferior to dog vomit!

    • You are teaching them manners if you’re asking them to say thank you (and agree, with them all a lot of it is about making meals as little of a battleground as possible – I don’t know how you deal with extreme fussiness, Bigger’s ‘yucky’ phase nearly drove me over the edge

  • I am currently trying very hard to get the boys to have nice table manners. Some of the messages go in (Like asking please may I get down), others not so much (Littleboy 2 still prefers to eat pasta with fingers, despite constant haranguing). But I agree, it’s terribly important. It’s one of the reasons we try to eat as a family every day, as they definitely don’t get taught this stuff at school.

  • Kirsty

    I absolutely agree with you. The way the family behaves at home is what has the biggest effect – an hour’s etiquette lesson isn’t going to help if it isn’t reinforced by the normal behaviour they’re presented with every day. I do think manners are very important. Getting my three year old to use cutlery and drink from an open cup is something we need to work on, but he’s very polite – we were out yesterday at a tea and cake thing at the local library, one of the older ladies said to him “are you going to eat all the cakes?” (trying to be funny) and he replied “no, because then there wouldn’t be any for anyone else.”

  • Thank goodness all are in agreement that table manners matter and start at home. It often feels very challenging with a 1 and 3 year old but even the 21 monther has to wait until her brother has finished before leaving the table. We’re working on her taking off her bib, throwing it on the floor and shouting “out!” but we only have to look at the 3 year old to know that table manners do sink in, you just have to keep repeating yourself, as we do, every mealtime, every day.

    • Ah yes, that was Littler’s approach ‘down!’ – um no you can wait and no don’t throw your plate onto the floor when you’re done!

      I guess nobody ever said it was going to be easy but at least we are all trying

  • I’m glad you read over people’s shoulders, I enjoyed reading this ;)
    I think mealtimes are important and we always sit down together. But I don’t force my nearly 3 year old boy to though, or to use a knife and fork. I tried to explain this to a friend who’s child sits like an angel through mealtimes, my son just can’t do it every time, and I don’t want mealtimes to be a battleground. I guess it depends on the child. He’ll fall in with the rest of us in time I know, because his sister does.
    great post!

    • One day I’m going to get in trouble for peeking over shoulders!

      It isn’t every day and every meal but every little step forward helps – Bigger reminded Daddy to say thank you please may I get down at the weekend!

  • Emily O

    Couldn’t agree more. We don’t often get to eat together as a family in the week because my husband isn’t back from work in time. But I’m very big on table manners just as I am with all forms of politeness. My almost 6 year old now comments when he comes across children ‘with no manners’ and a friend had my 3 year old round for lunch earlier in the week and was amazed when he asked her if he could leave the table. For me it’s second nature which we’ve done with the children since they were babies and rude children really annoy me. As do rude people. I think if you’re brought up proper and being told to do these things it comes automatically when you bring up your own children (btw I’m making my children sound like little angels here – they are so not, but they do have manners)

    • We’re the same – Mr and I don’t get in from work in time for tea together but we eat together at the weekends and they eat with our nanny in the week.

      Like you we’ve done this since they were tiny having seen some relatives with children who were polite and some that were less so and being determined that we’d be in one camp rather than the other!

      It’s hit and miss but at least we are trying

  • I totally agree with you that table manners are important. And we definitely owe it to our children. Just like teaching them that they should give up their seat on the bus to someone else who needs it more.
    I don’t have a dining table but I still try to drum table manners into the kids. Not always successful of course, but one must persevere.

    • We only ever eat in the kitchen but even so – agree it is like giving up a seat to someone who needs it more (and I don’t think children need seats, is that radical?)

      Not always successful but worth the effort in the long run hopefully – I find you can forgive a lot to a polite child

  • Table manners are incredibly important, as all manners are. But if you are managing to keep your kids at the table, eating with a knife and fork and asking to get down, at 2 and 3 and 1/2, you wouldn’t want to come and eat at my house with my two boys. Wanting and getting manngers consistently is never that easy !

    M2M

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