This morning I witnessed one of my children (not saying who, but she’s the only daughter I have) wipe her hands free of cream cheese by dragging them up and down the cloth placemat. She may have even pushed her unused napkin aside to have greater access to the placemat. She’s 12.

What the…this is not the child I raised. I have cloth napkins for crying out loud. People with cloth napkins have very well-mannered children!

With the holidays coming up, there’s bound to be a special dinner in which your children’s manners will be on full display. Mother-in-laws and Great Aunts will be ready to pounce on mouths talking while full of food and caveman-like grips on fork shovels. This will not do. In preparation, I consulted my favorite Parenting Guru (Google) and came up with some ideas to help my children’s taught-but-forgotten table etiquette shine like the North Star.

#1 Have a Way with Words

When my kids were preschool age, they literally tried three new foods (3!) because of a book, “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato.” Books are amazing influencers. Lessons are taught via storytelling instead of the mom-like siren that exits my face. Better strategy. “How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?” is a great book with wonderful illustrations explaining how dinosaurs act at the dinner table (reverse psychology, see?). There are a million books on teaching manners out there for toddler age kids to teens.

#2 Ya, There’s an App for That

Of course there’s a digital equivalent, as teaching manners is equally important in cyberspace. Although the majority of these apps are designed for younger children, they’re still accessible via a device and that’s enough to keep my kids’ attention. “A Quest for Manners” is a cute app (iTunes, $1.99) that has clever animation and includes true and false facts to reinforce learning good manners.

For greater breadth and depth, the “Good Manners for Kids” app covers a variety of different manners (table manners, sharing, being a good guest, not interrupting, etc.) Players are shown a scenario with “Johnny” and then asked to choose the correct behavior from multiple choices.  Free on Google Play and iTunes.

#3 Speak Up

We don’t allow phones at the dinner table mostly because I’m scared to aid and abet the creation of the worst dinner party guests ever. Kids need to learn how to conversate! To get everyone at the table oiled up, we love TableTopics,  a set of 135 random conversation starter question cards that include food for thought like, “What Halloween costumes was your favorite?” or “Would you rather live by the beach or mountains and why?” It teaches kids how to ask questions and be active and engaged participants in one-on-one discussions. TableTopics has almost 20 different themed versions and can also be purchased as an app. Go get this now!

#4 Get Schooled

OMG would I love to do this. Not sure why I haven’t (my mother has even offered to pay—I wonder if she’s trying to tell me something). The Etiquette Academy of New England (thecommunicationacademy.org) offers manners Boot Camps for kids ages 5-17. Classes are held in various locations in Massachusetts and are a hefty $199 per child but I ask you this, “Would you pay $200 to have your child not to use his finger like a butter knife?”

However you choose to teach table manners, reinforcement is key. Practice etiquette at every meal, every time. Be a good role model. Praise louder than you fuss. Remember, you’re teaching them, this stuff isn’t inherent. Very quickly, your kids will be oozing etiquette and you’ll wonder where all these social graces have been hiding. Happy holidays!

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