End Mealtime Chaos

Young boy eating breakfast, gripping his knife and fork in this fists
Cathy Yeulet/Hemera/Thinkstock

Table manners don't come naturally to most children. Many parents ask, "Can you have quality time with kids during meals instead of just harping on manners?" Some parents say, "Yes!" Here's how they do it: 

A New Sheriff in Town

No matter how I tried to intervene, dinner often ended in chaos. My three kids shouted over each other and ignored basic table manners. It was miserable for everyone.

Then one night I said, "There's a new sheriff in town, and it's you."

My kids' ears perked up, so I continued, "I am no longer in charge of the dinner table." I told them they would take turns being the sheriff and enforcing table manners.

The transformation was, and still is, amazing! Siblings try hard to behave so the sheriff of the evening can't call them out. They also listen intently, probably to catch whoever interrupts, but it still achieves the desired goal. It also brings levity to the meal, which was missing. Now we look forward to dinnertime.

—Claire McGarry

Pay With Nickels

We were tired of our kid slouching, belching and offering "see-food" displays. To combat the lack of manners, we implemented an infraction jar. Every offense costs five cents. Each time a family member, including Mom and Dad, was caught using bad manners, the person had to contribute a nickel to the jar.

—Sally Cressman

Pass the pig

To encourage good manners, we used a toy pig that we placed in the center of the table. Over the course of dinner, everyone watched for someone to put his elbows on the table, interrupt a conversation, chew with his mouth open, forget to ask to be excused or possibly let out the "accidental" belch. The pig was then placed in front of that person's plate until the next violation occurs.

—Audra Krell

Teach them every day

Marta determined to teach her teens table manners. She held dinners using fine china or planned themes. Then she and her husband playfully reproved each other's (often intentional) social gaffes, followed by an example of genteel manners.

—Delores Leisner

Reinforce peer positives

In order to reinforce good table manners, Sue and James watched their daughter's friends. They would focus especially on older teens whom Cindi admired. Whenever one of her peers sat up straight, kept a hand in her lap or showed poise, they would say, "I can see why Mary is popular. I noticed what good manners she had, sitting up so straight." Before long, Cindi would imitate the behavior without being reminded.

—Renae Brumbaugh

End with prayer

The Williams family practices Deuteronomy 8:10: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God." They not only say grace before the dinner

—Carla Williams

Forfeit the fork

Jonathan often was guilty of gripping his fork in his fist and hunching over his plate at meals. After reminding him too many times to sit up and hold his fork properly, I warned, "Think about what you're doing, or you'll be forfeiting your fork." Jonathan forgot, and I confiscated his fork. It took him a lot longer to finish dinner, but Jonathan hasn't needed a reminder since.

—Karen Schmidt


The compiled article "End Mealtime Chaos" first appeared on FocusOnTheFamily.com (2016). "A New Sheriff in Town" first appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Pay With Nickels," "Pass the Pig," "Teach Them Every Day," "Reinforce Peer Positives," "End With Prayer" and "Forfeit the Fork" first appeared in the January 2009 issue of Focus on Your Child Teen Phases under the title "Manners for the Dinner Table." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

"End Mealtime Chaos," the compiled article, © 2016 by Focus on the Family. "A New Sheriff in Town" © 2016 by Claire McGarry. "Pay With Nickels"  © 2009 by Sally Cressman; "Pass the Pig"  © 2009 by Audra Krell; "Teach Them Every Day"  © 2009 by Delores Leisner; "Reinforce Peer Positives"  © 2009 by Renae Brumbaugh ; "End With Prayer"  © 2009 by Carla Williams; and "Forfeit the Fork"  © 2009 by Karen Schmidt. Used by permission.

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