Picture this: Grandma is scooping mounds of fluffy mashed potatoes into her mother’s, mother’s dish while a very large bird roasts contentedly in the oven. With all the leaves inserted and no elbow room to speak of, the table is sharing its tablecloth with a foldable kids’ version that is nowhere near the same height. This is a world where puff-ball sweaters and high caloric intake are openly accepted; a strange land where cousins and perfumey women are abundant, and all the rules of real life are hopelessly abandoned…
And therein lies the problem.
I have many childhood memories of family get-togethers, but it’s the disastrous incidents that stick with you. Chief among these are the unfortunate moments that occur at the dinner table itself. Everyone is on display—parents and kids alike—and the pressure can be daunting. Take one tiny faux pas, add a scolding and a dash of guilt, and you’ve got a full-blown meltdown in the works.
Everybody can stand to brush up on their politeness before heading to a family gathering, so this week the Toy Talker is providing you with your very own crash course in table manners. Take some time this week at your own dinner table to review these basic principles, and Turkey Day will be as easy as passing the potatoes.
This important opening impression is very different depending on whether you will be playing host or arriving as guests this Thanksgiving. If you’re hosting, the best thing to do is to give your kids individual responsibilities to keep them busy and out of trouble, especially as the relatives arrive. For example, an older child might be responsible for taking coats, while a younger one could be assigned the role of official “Happy Thanksgiving” greeter. Being a “helper” is always a good thing, but it’s best to talk about it before the actual day so it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Don’t forget to remind kids that they’re going to be smothered in hugs! As guests or hosts they should greet every adult with a big ol’ hug before they can run off to play. This might not be their favorite thing in the world, so explain that it’s how families show that they care about each other.
Lesson 2: Appetizers
Beware the double-dipping! Enemy of appetizers everywhere! (Especially during flu season.) In addition to this no-no, you might want to remind kids what qualifies as a finger food and what needs to go on a little plate when it comes to pre-dinner snacks. If they’re offered an appetizer, they should say “No thank you” if they’re not interested. Not “Eww” or “Gross!” no matter how weird it looks.
Lesson 3: At the Table
If you remember to RESPECT the dinner table, you’ll cover all the bases.
Ready, set, eat! (Wait until the hostess takes a bite before you dig in.)
Elbows (Elbows may only be on the table between courses or when everyone’s finished.)
Spills (A napkin in the lap helps when spills occur. If you get up from the table during the meal the napkin should be folded and placed beside your fork.)
Posture (Sit up straight, make eye contact when someone is talking to you.)
Eating with your mouth closed (Self-explanatory.)
Cutting food (Meats, other than the chicken drumstick, should be cut. If you need help ask Daddy.)
Thank you (Say this every time someone passes you a dish, and to the cook at the end of the meal.)
Lesson 4: Leaving the Table
Kids should always ask to leave the table before they do so. If they need to go to the bathroom or blow their nose during the meal, a simple, “Mom, can I be excused for a minute?” is plenty. No details necessary! Accompanying younger children is recommended.
(Anecdote: My parents threw a dinner party when my brother was about four years old. Halfway through the meal he shouted very loudly from the downstairs bathroom, “MOM? COME WIPE ME!!!” They really should’ve reviewed these rules….)
When the meal is winding down to the coffee stage, kids may ask to be excused to go off and play some more.
Family gatherings are chaos. There’s no way round it. It’s a waste of energy to try and control the situation once you’re in it because kids are kids. They’re wonderfully unpredictable. But if you do your homework and make sure your expectations are clear ahead of time, you’ll find that your holiday will require a lot less parenting on your part.
Here’s wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!
- Toy Talker