QUESTION: I would like to know whether table manners are still in vogue. During the holidays when everyone sat down to my lovely turkey dinner, there were several young children who kept getting up out of their seats (to get something, to tell their mother something, just whatever). No one made any attempt to curb this behavior and to keep the children seated. Should I have had a “children’s table,” or would they have just interrupted by leaving that table, too? I did not feel like it was appropriate for me to correct the behavior, but I also thought it was impolite.
CALLIE’S ANSWER: This is not your place. The parents should deal with this behavior. A kid’s table could be nice, but I don’t think it would help. Blow this off; you can’t control other people’s children.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: If you have young children at a big holiday meal, their manners are not going to be perfect. It’s hard for them to sit still and hard for parents to teach that behavior all at once. Teaching good behavior happens over time and not just at one meal. Also, any mother of young children is going to be stressed because they require so much from her all the time. Maybe that mother was tired and wanted to take the path of least resistance that day — not correcting her children at a gathering, knowing family was around to help. I don’t know the answer.
However, from your statement, it doesn’t sound like the children were being destructive but only distracting. A children’s table is one solution, but that might not have solved your perceived problem of keeping them away from adults. Having little ones at any gathering injects into it an unpredictable element and requires some flexibility. Expect good behavior, but let little things slide if you can.
HELEN’S ANSWER: My best solution to this question is to have a children’s table, but close enough to the adult’s table that the small children know their parents are nearby.
One holiday at our house, the children’s table was the most fun. The children decorated the table for the meal, put out party favors that entertained them for 20 minutes and chose all the foods for their table. One “fun” adult was the host for the table, and the children never, ever even looked at the adult table. The children left the table when everyone was finished and the host had another activity planned while the adults finished their meal.
That being said, if children are seated at the adult table, or any table, they need to learn to be mannerly. Maybe an adult can set the rules before the meal begins. A simple, let’s all try our best to be polite today by “…” (whatever rules you want to apply here).
GUEST’S ANSWER: Hilarie Blaney, etiquette and international protocol consultant: In my experience, table manners are not in vogue or “in style” among most people these days. Being in the corporate and civic world, I see daily instances where highly educated people do not know or practice correct manners — at the meal or business table. In addition, the families that I train are mostly grandparents that wish for parents, my age, to remind their own children, but to train their grandchildren.
Your question included a formal dinner at your home, but it did not tell me enough about the relationship among the guests. If they were not your family of origin, you cannot correct their parents but you can just not include them next year. But, if they are your children and grandchildren, you have the right to pull them aside and discuss the importance of etiquette in this “fast food world.”
I am grateful for those people such as you that care about the discipline and comfort that etiquette stands for as well as the joy that a family holiday dinner can provide — family history, philosophy, world news and pure training that we should be passing down from generation to generation.
Lastly, I tried the “children’s table” last year, and it worked just as you suspected. It is, in my experience, the duty of the parents to monitor and or pay attention to the behavior of their children, at a dinner such as this as well as at any social function attended by adults. But as we all know, “children will be children,” and a hostess must sometimes just go with the flow.
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