An old childhood trauma resurfaced when I read an article in The Sunday Times today. The author, India Knight, talked about Etiquette vs. Manners. I’ve always found etiquette intimidating; a feeling that has recently returned since the birth of my son. Anyone with a toddler who can spin in circles faster the Tasmanian devil would know what I’m talking about.
When I was younger, my parents would take me to a nice restaurant and, as Ms. Knight describes, I always imagined an old Victorian woman (think Madame Defarge from a tale of two cities), “waiting, poised, to make fun of (me) for using the wrong fork.”. Today, I picture the same old woman clicking her tongue in disapproval as my toddler ships his green beans by air-mail to the next table over. I can feel my cheeks burning with shame as he screeches to celebrate their triumphant landing into someone else’s mashed potatoes.
Teaching good manners begins at home. I know this. But I also know that toddlers are too clever for their good. If you put a fork in my son’s hand, he turns into the deadliest assassin on the planet. I’ll never forget what he did with a cup of ice water at my mother-in-law’s retirement dinner.
Then I remembered that I have an iPhone. Bless the modern age! If I just turn on Disney’s Cars and prop it up against my water cup, my boy will be zombified for at least a thirty minutes. Success! We can enjoy a meal in peace . . . until the guilt sets in. Of course, I know screens have no place at the dinner table but I am doing a service, not just to me but, to the other diners in the restaurant. Then I hear someone cough, politely clearing their throat, and chills shoot down my spin e. I whip my head around, searching for the Victorian lady. I know she’s in the dining room somewhere, silently judging my etiquette and my parenting.
So how do I conquer the anxiety? How do I teach a toddler etiquette? The better question is why bother? I don’t want my son to grow up with the same intimidation issues that I had. Ms. Knight said it best,
“At heart, etiquette is about people knowing their place. Manners are about people behaving in a way that makes life nicer — and easier — for everyone.”
I would rather teach my son about manners than etiquette and that can start at home. You can find amazing resources on the internet like Emily Post’s Top 10 Table Manners For Kids.
As for that classless, Madam Defarge knock-off, who I’m so terrified of; I found a way to banish her once before and I think I can do it again. When I was in middle school my mom bought me a book called “How Rude!: The Teenagers’ Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out”. Believe it or not, that gave me the courage to know I was choosing the correct fork with confidence.
Aside from book recommendations and Emily Post, I have one last nugget of wisdom to pass along to those IncrediParents who want to enjoy themselves at a fine restaurant with your toddler: Relax.
Remember that your kid is just that, a kid. Anyone who isn’t Madame Dufarge will understand. A lot of them have been in your shoes and lost the airborne green bean war too. Toddlers learn best through mimicry. Just remember that your little sidekick is learning from the best role model they have; You.