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iStock image of smiling boy with fork and spoon, etiquette column from Mrs. McVeigh on bad table manners

Mrs. McVeigh’s Manners: Terrible Table Manners

The right way to correct bad mealtime manners

Elise McVeigh, CEO of Mrs. McVeigh’s Manners, writes a monthly manners advice column for DFWChild. If you have any etiquette questions, email mrsmcveighsmanners@gmail.com and she might answer your question in her next column. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

manners columnist Elise McVeigh, photo courtesy of Elise McVeigh

Dear Mrs. McVeigh,

My fifth-grade son’s best friend is a really nice and well-behaved child. My issue is that he has really bad table manners. They are so bad that it is painful to eat with him. He smacks his food and uses utensils like he is a warrior stabbing his prey. Do you think that there is a nice way to mention this to him?

I really want this kid to be successful in life, and it kills me that his terrible table manners may hold him back. I know he is only in fifth grade, but I am not sure when and how he will improve if his parents are not working with him on it. Thanks for any advice!


—Just trying to help a kid out


Dear Just trying to help,

You are a good person to care so much about this child. I agree with you that good table manners are so important to have. People judge us on our manners, and table manners is a big one. I have had friends tell me that they have not pursued relationships with people because of their table manners.

I think you can help this young man without making it uncomfortable for him, or your son. To help him with his utensil use, knowing how to correctly set the table is helpful. When you set the table for your family (better yet, have your children set the table), always put the fork on the left side of the plate, and the knife on the right side of the plate; it does not matter if you are right- or left-handed. This is also how you pick up your utensils to cut your food. The tongs of the fork go down in your left hand, and then you can cut with your knife in your right hand, in front of the fork.

You mentioned he was “stabbing” his food. I am picturing that he is holding his fork straight up with a tight grip around it. This is not uncommon for children. Next time you see the friend doing this, say something such as, “May I please show you an easier way to cut your food?” You can give him a demonstration, and even put your hands on his hands to have him get the hang of it.

When I am teaching a manners class and the children are eating lunch, instead of singling someone out, I make general statements to the group. You could say to anyone eating at the table, “Let’s all remember to not smack while we eat. I forget sometimes too.” This is a lot less confrontational. If your own son has great table manners, then alert him ahead of time that you are trying to help his friend, and you do realize that he is already doing everything correctly. Addressing this subject with both boys will alleviate any embarrassment for his friend.

I applaud you for your efforts to lead this friend in a good direction. If you—or your children—need some resources on how to have correct utensil use, or table manners, YouTube has a lot of good demonstrations. My channel, Mrs. McVeigh’s Magnificent Manners Show, features videos that are made for children.

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Top image: iStock; second image courtesy of Elise McVeigh