A Stepparent’s Guide to Tackling Table Manners
By Lisa Orr, Etiquette & Protocol Consultant at Orr Etiquette
Teaching children how to enjoy a meal politely at the table is no easy task. It requires regular practice and consistency and ideally positive reinforcement. So it’s no surprise that this task can be slightly more challenging when you have a two household family where there are both parents and stepparents involved.
As a stepparent you can help your stepchildren (and your own if you are in a blended family) to acquire good table manners by following these simple steps:
1. Communicate & Collaborate
Communication and collaboration are huge factors for success in two (or multi) household families. The topic of table manners is no exception. Both sides should communicate their table manners goals and ideally collaborate to ensure one common set of rules for both houses. It is way less confusing for children to learn a single set of rules that are being reinforced on a regular basis by both sets of parents.
2. Support the other household
If collaboration isn’t on the agenda and the other household has a different standard for table manners do not pass judgment or criticize. Reinforce that there are different expectations in different houses and that it is important to observe the house rules. At the same time, be clear that using proper table manners is always the expectation when they are with you.
3. Keep it Simple!
The key to acquiring table manners is consistency so don’t create too much complexity around them. Decide on the priority items for your household and require them for every meal. In my experience focusing on daily table setting, using a napkin, using cutlery with the correct hands, chewing with your mouth closed, and using the magic words (please, thank you, excuse me etc.) will create the foundations children need to acquire more advanced table manners as they become more able.
4. Model Good Manners
Another important factor in children acquiring table manners is modeling. This means that table manners must be taught by adults using both a “do as I say” and a “do as I do” approach. As you start working on table manners with your family make sure that you are observing all of the basics as well as keeping your phone off and away from the table during meal times and engaging in conversation.
5. Make it Fun!
Step parenting has lots of challenges but tackling table manners doesn’t have to be one of them. The solution is to make it fun! Get creative! Think about what your children love to play and use that to inspire how you decide to learn. In my house we use everything from weekly dress up fancy dinner nights to table manners games to make learning and practicing table manners something the whole family looks forward to!
Remember that in order for children to acquire table manners you and your children are actually going to have to sit down at the table for meals, at the very least every night for dinner but ideally for all of your meals together. It takes some time and planning but once it’s part of your routine you’ll wonder how you lived without it!