I have searched, and nagged, and complained at my children to have good manners at the table. But it usually turned into a burping-tickling-kicking-falling off the chair-frenzy in which very little food made it into their mouths.
Then I visited my sister and brother in law who have children about the same age as mine. At mealtime all the children asked — begged, almost — to practice their manners. Baffled, I watched as the following events unfolded:
In front of each child, three small candies were placed on the table. If the child made it through the whole meal with good manners he got all three candies. Everyone sitting around the table got to try to "catch" the others practicing bad manners.
While everyone ate their mother read the story of the Good and Bad Manners from Richard Scarry's Best First Book Ever. The story describes the cat family's excellent manners. "Lowly sits up straight in his chair like a good worm." As soon as the kids around the table heard about Lowly, they immediately sat up straight…and it went on from there.
My son — the oldest, who had been most resistant to learning manners — lost 2 out of 3 M&M's during the course of his lunch. Since then, it has been amazing to see how his manners have changed.
I was so impressed that we created a "Good Manners" poster for my home daycare. The great thing about this is you can taylor it to your own family. Decide which manners are the most important and work on those first. Start with as many candies as you like. And have FUN. But watch out: adults have to play, and you just might lose your M&M's too! Kids love "catching " their parents!
Who else feels like standing up and applauding? Three things about this hack jump out at me, because I've seen them work in my own family:
- Learning is always easier and faster when there's a game involved.
- Fun, friendly competition is motivating, and is a learning process in itself. Think: personal accountability, reward/recognition, etc.
- Specific instruction is key (instead of "have good manners," "sit up straight in your chair").
As long as the tone is always light, fun, and supportive, you could use this model as a template for learning all sorts of skills: chores, room cleaning, homework…
How do you teach your kids to practice table manners?