After many failed attempts to teach her children to use table manners, one mom came up with a fun & quirky game to get the lesson across.
“Sit up straight! Chew with your mouth closed! Don’t touch the food with your hands!”
Name one person who wants to say this, let alone hear this.
As a young mother, I tried to instill manners with straightforward verbal cues, but it didn’t seem to work. My kids were miserable, and I was miserable barking orders rather than enjoying a family meal.
I knew I didn’t want to have mealtimes become a battle. I also knew that there was no way in the world that I would raise children that would go through life hampered by bad manners! I had to find a better way to teach them good manners.
Then, one evening, I had a particularly delicious meal with a most wonderful sauce. I remembered that my mother used to sometimes lick her plate – stating before and after that it was a terrible way of behaving – that she only did it to show us what NOT to do. My five siblings and I thought it was very, very funny. It was so entirely out of character for my mother and her strict upbringing. She was so prim and proper!
Suddenly I had an idea: I could show my children in a slightly comical way what NOT to do when it came to table manners. I invented a new game: “Shocking Grandma.”
How To Shock Grandma
I introduced my children that there were many ways to shock my mother, their grandmother. I wanted them to know all the things they could not do when they visited their grandmother. First I demonstrated: I licked the plate, and looked up with big shocked eyes to show the kids how my mother would look. I wiped my mouth with my hands. I would look up and make the face and sounds I imagined my mother would make. I showed them how she would faint. I wiped my mouth my sleeves. Each time stopping for effect, showing my kids how shocked my mother would look. The kids were very young at the time and they thought it was very, very funny. They naturally started to play along, showing how they would shock their Grandma.
I then took over the task of being shocked and holding my hand to my forehead as I “fainted.” When they ran out of ways to shock her, I would introduce a few more shocking moves: Touching the food with my hands, pushing food onto my fork with my fingers, chewing food with my mouth open, licking the spoon.
“Tricking” Your Kids Into Learning Good Manners
The kids started competing for points as to who had the most demonstrations of shocking table manner transgressions. I encouraged them to demonstrate the many ways they could shock Grandma and to gain more points. Eventually, I added a few not so obvious transgressions. Like finishing your meal with fork and knife crossed, which clearly indicates you wish to have more food. Having your elbow on the table, eating your salad with the wrong fork, cutting up your steak with the butter knife, rolling up the napkin in a ball and putting it on the soiled plate.
If they remembered my transgressive tips, they had a better chance to win the game. We had so much fun. My son and my daughter found ever more ways to Shock Grandma. Every mealtime we decided to play, one of them did something that would shock Grandma I gave them a point and their sibling would start competing. For a few years, many a mealtime became a contest. We even kept score. I am very proud to say at one point my daughter found 26 ways to transgress table manners! Now that is truly skillful. It was such fun, and the kids greatly enjoyed being such experts on Shocking Grandma – and by proxy – table manners.
When my kids were young adult professionals, they came to me and said: ‘Mom, you tricked us into becoming well-mannered!'”
When my young teen children visited my strict German Mother, she called to ask “How did you raise children with impeccable manners?” Thanks, kids, you made me proud!
When my kids were young adult professionals, they came to me and said: “Mom, you tricked us into becoming well-mannered!” I explained that I just wanted them to have options. The option to behave well when the setting demands it might be important. For instance, when they visit Grandma, or when they go for an interview, or when they attend a wedding or special dinner, etc. The ability to adapt to every setting is a valuable life skill. It is helpful not to stand out in all the wrong ways!
Whether we like it or not, table manners matter. It is a simple and teachable skill that allows people to feel at ease in every setting. But it doesn’t have to be a miserable chore when you make it a game.
To this day, my grown children harken back to those days when they mastered the art of shocking Grandma – these are some of the most fun memories from their childhood. Yes – learning table manners!
In case you want to brush up on ways to Shock Grandma, there are wonderful tools available.
About the Blogger
Edie Okamoto is a Bay Area resident who raised her children while running an international business consultancy from her home. Now that the children are grown she enjoys sharing her many wonderful parenting and business experiences, as well as observations about current events and culture.