Motherhood Mondays: Dinner Table Manners

Did you have dinner-table rules growing up? My parents had one super strict rule…

When we wanted to get down, we had to say, “May I please be excused?” And when our mom said yes, we had to say, “Thank you so much for the delicious dinner.”

Did you guys have to say that? I always assumed my parents made it up, but now I’ve realized lots of people said it during their childhoods, too. (And fifteen years later, I STILL catch myself saying it at restaurants; I’m forever thanking waiters for the delicious dinners:)

Our parents also had two other funny rules:

* One-finger rule in stores. When we were toddlers, we were allowed to touch anything at all in a shop — even wine glasses or ceramic vases — as long as we used just one finger.

* Maximum noise in tunnels. We’d often take road trips of a few hours to visit relatives. My parents told us that we had to make minimum noise during most of the trip, but whenever we drove through tunnels we had to make maximum noise! We’d all yell at the top of our lungs for the entire length.

When we were little, these rules just seemed fun, but, looking back, I see how genius they were: Our parents let us enjoy what felt like freedom, while still teaching us to be respectful and responsible. Well played, Mom and Dad!

What about you guys? Did you have lots of rules — at the dinner table or otherwise — when you were growing up? Or was it pretty relaxed? Do you have certain strict rules these days for your own kids?

P.S. French Kids Eat Everything, and 9 table manners for grown-ups.

(Painting by Norman Rockwell.)

  1. Throughout my entire childhood and even now, as an adult, the rule in my parents house is to sit at the dinner table during every evening meal, say grace before dinner and ask to be excused. Although at the moment I do not have a dinner table, my appartment is too tiny, I think I will be continuing these traditions when I have my own children.

  2. Throughout my entire childhood and even now, as an adult, the rule in my parents house is to sit at the dinner table during every evening meal, say grace before dinner and ask to be excused. Although at the moment I do not have a dinner table, my appartment is too tiny, I think I will be continuing these traditions when I have my own children.

  3. We had to ask to be excused, say pardon me instead of what, and when we answered the phone had to say “pratt residence, may I ask who’s calling?”

    To this day whenever I am at my parents house and I answer their phone I recite the same line, it makes my dad laugh like a loon.

  4. My parents strictly enforced no elbows on the table, no singing, and chew with mouth closed. And most importantly, you must eat what is served. I remember my brother sitting in his high chair after everyone had gone to bed, picking at his veggies. But it worked, my brother and I love all different kinds of food now. My husband is much more picky…

  5. That book is WONDERFUL. I grew up reading one my grandmother had from 1960 or so. I still see the little illustrations in my mind’s eye when I’m remembering grammar rules and such things. There was also one that taught safety through little characters called “nit-wits”. Hilarious, and highly recommended!!

  6. My father was very strict with his tablemanners when we were eating at restaurants. He always told me to sit upright and move the spoon to the mouth and not the mouth to the spoon and to keep my elbows off the table etc. etc. But one night when he was strict as always, a friend of mine made me laugh so hard, I spat my orange juice all over the table. Everyone laughed except for my father who was by then the joke of the evening. Even my mother my mother made fun of him.

  7. I had the exact same table rules. And it totally worked – it’s reflex to thank whoever prepared the meal now.

    The tunnel rule reminds me of something my grandma used to do – she had 9 grandkids and a couple of acres out in the pine trees…when we were there, we’d run wild through the blackberry vines; but when it rained, if we got too restless indoors, she’d send us to her mostly empty detached garage and tell us to scream as loud and as long as we liked. The echoing was fantastic, and it got out a lot of nervous energy.

  8. Same tables rules in France!
    Love the one-finger rule!!!

  9. We had so many of these mentioned (especially asking to be be excused) and some of these as well…
    ~~ “Use your inside voice”
    ~~ Pass BOTH the salt and pepper, even if only the salt was asked for.
    ~~ When eating soup, angle the spoon AWAY from you as you scoop the soup, not towards you like a shovel.
    ~~ No slurping noodles (unless in Japan where that is a sign of respect)
    ~~ no lifting the bowl to drink from (like when filled with cereal), unless again in Japan where that is acceptable with soup.

  10. What ever happened to manners? I sure hope parents are still teaching these to their kids. You don’t see a lot of table manners any more though.

    We definitely had some table rules in my house. No elbows on the table, no hats at the table, ask to be excused, ask for things to be passed instead of reaching, etc..

  11. Hi!!Please don’t feel strange if i said it was the different ex princes for me, Because i never obey anyone when i’m on my dinner table break very rule.Cause of this i had to join a NLP Course in Australia.
    Your blog remind lot of good memories of mine life.Thank’s for sharing this!!

  12. We definitely had table rules! The boys were taught to remain standing until all the women/girls had been seated, wee had to wait for everyone to be served before we started eating, pass dishes nicely (and ask for things “Will you please pass the butter?”, and we also had the “May I please be excused?” line.

    Your one-finger rule made me smile; when we were older we could do that, but when we were little my mum would always say “Thumbs behind your back!” if we were in a shop with lots of “breakables” – then we’d hold our thumbs with the opposite fist so we couldn’t possibly touch anything. It worked!

  13. I totally do the one-finger rule with my little ones. You may see anything, but Mommy holds it, and you may touch with one finger. It satisfies their curiosity enough that they loose interest in the “forbidden” item.

  14. Everyone! Please teach your children manners! This is coming from a teacher who sees her students do the most deplorable things at school! Thanks!

  15. If we were eating something hand-held that was sticky or messy like a doughnut mom always said “two fingers” meaning we could only hold it with our thumb and index finger so we didn’t get our whole hands sticky and messy.

  16. We have the rule that erveryone has to be done before you can be excused from the table. But my number one rule when eating- No technology at the table!

  17. “May I please be excused?” and “Would you please pass the ______?” were rules at our table and you were not to put your elbows on the table. I’m glad my parents taught us table manners. I knew so many people growing up that used no table manners and had no idea how to act when they came over.

  18. In my family, we had to ask to be excused from the table (also no hats, chewing gum, singing, whistling at the table), we had to try everything once, and we had to put our napkins in our laps. And I always thank the wait staff as I’m leaving a restaurant. I liked the rule in Bringing up Bebe where children have to greet and acknowledge the adults in the room. I’m going to use that with my son.

  19. Oh goodness.

    Growing up, we had very strict table manners.
    I never thought of them as WASPy, but it is how most of the commenters have described the manners we learned.

    1 No elbows on the table
    2 Chew with your mouth closed
    3 You may not begin eating until you everyone is seated and the adult says you may “commence to begin” (family inside joke)
    4 You may not leave the table unless you ask to be excused, and will only be excused if there is a valid reason, otherwise, you must stay until everyone is finished
    5 You may use a knife or a bread pusher for difficult to eat items, but never your free hand
    6 Pass to the right
    7 Thank the cook
    8 If you did not finish your food, or complained about it, you were excused to your room & your only option for the rest of the night was a peanut butter sandwich (my father excused one of my friends who was spending the night for saying “eww” to stuffed bellpeppers)
    9 napkins & spare hands in laps (when I was living in France, I learned that it is proper manners there to keep all hands on deck since hiding a hand meant that you might not be being forthright)

    We also had a system for the 4 kids:
    one person set and cleared, another washed dishes and another dried

    And answering the phone “This is the ___ residence, ___ speaking”
    I still answer my phone “Hello, this is Katie speaking” or if I have to answer a friend’s cell phone: “This is ___’s phone, this is Katie speaking”

  20. We had to ask to be excused from the table and to get us to sit up straight my mom used to say “bring your food to your mouth, not your mouth to your food”.

  21. Omg I thought my brother and i were the only kids on this earth that had to say “may I please be excused” in order to leave the table!!

  22. Omg I thought my brother and i were the only kids on this earth that had to say “may I please be excused” in order to leave the table!!

  23. We had to say “May I be excused please?” and I think I would want to do it for my kids. Maybe I will add the “Thank you for the delicious dinner” part so that they can learn the importance of being grateful and appreciative.

  24. My parents (especially my Mom) were very strict about all manners – table manners included. She grew up in a military family and so my Grandpa was stringent about rules. I have to thank her though – I have been complemented on my table manners numerous times, and it makes me feel so much more comfortable going out to dinner with friends/strangers as I know I’m not going to embarrass myself!

  25. We definitely had table manners. No speaking with our mouths full, no elbows on the table, please and thank you and asking to be excused. We also had a rule that we were not allowed to take seconds until we had asked everyone if they had their full of whatever was served. My parents were gentle but firm with us enforcing these rules, and to this day we are all very polite diners.

  26. We would always say thank you at the end of the meal. I still do, sometimes. My parents also taught me to always offer a seat on the subway or bus to an elderly person or a pregnant woman or someone who plainly looks in pain or tired. I still do. It’s always surprising to me how surprised most people are when I offer the seat. And I for one very much appreciated being offered a seat on the train when I was in my third trimester last spring.

  27. I love the rules your parents had! They are so smart. My little guy always wants to have both hands on everything in every place we go, I think I may give the one finger rule a try!

  28. when i went to live with my father & his wife, i was 11. she taught me to set the table and i never ate before they did. i always had to wait for them to pick up their chopsticks and then it was a sign that i could pick up mine. also, i always had to say something along the lines of “i invite mom & dad to eat” (i don’t know how to translate it from vietnamese but that’s the literal translation) and they would then answer “yes, go ahead & eat” which was the signal for me to actual start eating.

    it taught patience. i don’t say those words anymore but i do wait for the host/hostess to pick up their utensils first before i will.

  29. our only dinner table rule right now is no cell phones! no texting, no ringing, no talking. table time is for focusing on each other & the tasty food before us.

  30. A funny story. When I was growing up I didn’t have too many table rules to follow, they were quite simple (we lived with my grandparents): no complaining about the food served, you ate what there was or nothing at all. Help set up and clean up whether you eat or not. I NEVER had to ask to be excused.

    Fast forward to when I was 21 years old, sitting at my (serious) boyfriend’s parents’ dinner table FOR THE FIRST TIME ever. A lovely meal is served, but I wouldn’t know it b/c I’m so freakin’ nervous. Boyfriend slams down his dinner, asks to be excused, and leaves me sitting there alone with his parents. I’m pretty much finished eating by now, yet, I can’t seem to form the words “May I be excused?”. I sit for the next 5 (excruciating) minutes having an internal dialogue with myself about how easy it is to just ask those words, “but I’m 21 for god’s sake, why do I need to ask? Because you’re having dinner with his parents. It’s simple, no it’s not.” etc.

    Finally, FINALLY I was able to mumble a compromised “Excuse me.” and I practically bolted. LOL.

    We have strict rules for our daughter, especially when she was really young: No playing with food, if so, it signaled you were finished and the food would be taken away. It helped to ensure she ate and was truly full when she stopped. She had to wait until we were finished before leaving the table (that was just to teach her to be patient for eating at restaurants). Once she could do that, we would let her leave once she was finished at home. No smacking, no talking with mouth full, and no elbows on table.


    • Also, I had to address everyone older than me as Mr/Mrs or Auntie/Uncle, never first name.

      Lastly, no begging at a store for an item. No meant no, and if she had to say it more than twice she’d have us leave the store immediately. (Seeing was better than not seeing the desired off limit item so I didn’t whine/pine too much).

  31. I LOVE that tunnel rule! How fun is that…we do the exact opposite we hold our breath and make a wish in tunnels haha but I like that better I think especially for children.

  32. My parents dinner table rule, which really took force when I was a teenager, was that we all had to sit at the table together. I remember protesting that I wasn’t hungry at times, just wanting to be in my room, but I always had to sit at the table to eat with my parents. Now, I appreciate that so much. With our full schedules and activities, dinner was the time we had together to share our days, or at the very least, just sit, but together.

  33. My mom always said we were to eat dinner like we were at the Ritz, why my mother had this fascination with eating at the Ritz Carlton I have no idea but as I got older and started going on dates it always stuck in my head!

    Her other big thing was a three bite minimum so if after three bites I still did not like the food, mainly boiled brussel sprouts and creamed spinach, I did not have to eat any more. My younger brother though is really talkative and would eat his three bites then claim he was full so my mom would take the plate and put it on the stove, so his rule was if he was hungry later they only thing he could have was his leftover dinner!

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  35. I’ll have to store those tips away :) Thanks for posting!

  36. I also had the one finger rule! :) I still catch myself doing it as an adult. Other rules my sisters and I had to follow:

    1) Youngest always sits in the back of the car.

    2) Shortest/youngest sits in the middle.

    3) Saturday mornings were not for cartoons, they were for cleaning! Each of us was assigned one room each Saturday that we had to clean top to bottom before we could do anything else.

    4) If we were getting restless, we had to go outside and run 5 laps around the house before we could come back inside. :) I have some fun memories of doing this in the winter with my mom, yelling at the top of our lungs.

    5) I was never allowed to address an adult by their first name. It was always Mr./Mrs. _______. Felt really awkward when my best friends parents INSISTED I called them Tom, Sandy, etc.

    6) We had to finish everything on our plate before we were allowed to get up from the table. This was especially difficult on spinach and sauerkraut nights.

    7) In car rides, when we passed over a bridge, everyone had to hold their breath until we reached the other side so that the car would be lighter and “float” if the bridge gave out. :)

    8) If we were misbehaving, all my mom had to do was start counting to three and we would immediately stop or stand at attention. If we starting whining or misbehaving in the store all my mom had to do was say “One…..two…..” she never had to get to three.

    9) As I got older when we would go to a restaurant, everyone had to order their own food, there was no “She’ll have….”. This was especially hard for me because I was a SHY kid.

  37. Everytime we went thru a tunnel we had to yell “TUNNELLLLLLLLLLLLLL” until we were out. We would try so hard to not have to catch our breath in the middle!

    When we went into any store, we always had to have our hands behind our back so we wouldn’t touch anything…I’m 24 and I still hold my hands behind my back sometimes when I’m shopping!

    The worst rule was that anytime we answered the phone we had to say “Hello, this is Kate, how may I help you?” EVERYTIME. It didn’t matter that we had caller ID and I knew it was my best friend (or god forbid a boy!) calling!

    • Our rule was that when you called someone, you had to say: “Hi, this is so-so. May I please speak to so-so?” My father would pick up the phone when my friends called and would instruct them on this rule, too. Only after they introduced themselves would he hand the phone over to me.

  38. We had no rules – it was (and still is) chaos. Can’t you tell?? ; )

  39. My mother used the one-finger rule on us my whole childhood, although I definitely remember “deciding” when I was “grown-up” enough to pick some things up! A great rule nonetheless. Our dinner rules included asking to be excused, no “toilet talk,” and we HAD to finish our milk before we could be excused. I like that a thank you was required at your house!

  40. It is so fun to see how many people grew up with similar house rules! I grew up with the “may I please be excused?” rule, and the rule for thanking the cook. We also weren’t allowed to leave the table if we had company (especially grandparents) because they often told stories after we all finished eating. I always thought the stories were long, drawn out, and tiresome as a kid but now I’m so grateful for those memories.
    As for tunnels, we had to hold our breath as we drove through them. I used to puff my cheeks up and breath through my nose but my younger brothers couldn’t tell so they thought I had amazing breath-holding skills! ;)

  41. Haha, I love these rules. When I was little and we used to take Sunday drives through the country, my Mum made up a game/rule – if you saw a cow (which are everywhere in the countryside), you weren’t allowed to speak again until you saw a dog (which aren’t that common). My mum still laughs about it when we talk about those drives! Excellent management of a little chatterbox.

  42. We didn’t have many rules at the dinner table ( just general politeness, and we were taught how to hold our silverware correctly), but there was one major table rule, no books at the table!!!! That one came about because of my brother. Also my brother and I always had to clear the table and do the dishes. And when we were old enough we were each in charge of one dinner a week; which I absolutely love that we had that as a rule/chore because I knew how to cook when I moved away to college while none of my friends did!

  43. Rules at my house were pretty much irrelevant. The only real rule was “Anything mom says, goes.” And if you broke that rule, she’d give you a look that withered your very soul.

    But I once went over to play at a neighbors house and they invited me to stay for dinner. During dinner, the mother told me that I needed to remove my elbows from the table, because only boys were allowed to rest their elbows on the table. I was only five years old, but I was appalled. And that was the last time I was invited over!

  44. We had lots of rules, but one of the rules I enforce now even on my friends is “Don’t yuck my yum”. It is so rude to talk about how disgusting someone else’s food is (within bounds, of course. Nobody is bringing any monkey brains to lunch at work!). If I like raw tomatoes or brie cheese or Indian food and you don’t, please don’t make faces while I eat them! It is so incredibly rude.
    Also, any situation where you see food after it has entered someone else’s body is disgusting. Chew with your mouth closed and be discrete about removing any unwanted bits from your mouth.
    It makes such a difference to be around people with good manners, especially kids!

    • Oh my goodness I can’t stand when people do this! At my school most people ate lunchables, white bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off, jello snack packs, etc. My mom refused to have us eat anything like that. We drank white milk, wheat bread, and vegetables. I had no idea what Twinkies or Ding Dongs were growing up. Kids would always say “eww that’s disgusting!” about my food and it made me so embarrassed as a kid. I’m an adventurous eater as an adult, and it still surprises me when other adults say/show that they think my food is disgusting.

  45. I don’t know if I’d call them rules, but we were taught manners. My dad is British and my mom French and there are just certain things kids do and don’t do at the table. It didn’t seem tough at the time and it doesn’t now either. Although I must say that learning to hold a knife and fork “correctly” has been a disservice since most Americans grip their fork with the whole fist while they saw at their meat. I feel like a snob, but I was raised to hold my knife and fork carefully.

    As for tricks. When I learned the word s**t My mom said that was bad but that the worst swear word in the world was to say CABBAGE. So I went around saying cabbage.

    Other rules: ask to be excused, thank cook for dinner, always say hello to everyone in the room when you arrive and goodbye when you leave, napkin on lap, clear your plate, fork and knife together when finished.

    Love this set of responses.

    • Same thing about the fork and knife. I still have the little set of knife, spoon & fork that my parents used to teach me, my sister and my brother how to hold utensils correctly. I grew up in Russia and also often feel like a snob for holding the utensils the way I do and not the American way.

  46. I definitely couldn’t get up from the table before everyone else was finished- that was considered rude. And yes, my hubby and I have continued to implement the same rules with our 3 kids as much as it bugs them:) Table time is sacred for conversation – that doesn’t happen when watching TV or playing outside with friends.

  47. If only we had tunnels in the midwest! Maybe I could switch that rule to bridges…
    We have our 3.5 year old ask if he can be excused as well as clearing his plate/cup from the table. My husband and I always thank the other spouse who has made the meal & our son usually follows suit. Leading by example will hopefully stick with our kids!

  48. That book is so great! A friend gave it to me in college as a birthday gift, but he wrote his own obscene commentary throughout, so now I can’t put it in my classroom for the kiddos to read! It sits on my bookshelf at home and I giggle whenever I see it.

  49. My mom had a thing about us saying something “sucks” (which my brother and I said constantly as pre-teens haha). After getting tired of always telling us to not say that, whenever we would say “sucks”, she would say “socks?” So then we started saying”this socks” and eventually stopped saying all together to this day. haha I dunno if that counts a rule, but hey.

  50. I’m not sure I ever thought of most of these types of things are “rules.” They were simply manners; they simply were. Two incidents did stick with me especially though. First, we were taught that we (this might actually be “the children” in more generic terms) clear the table. It’s so ingrained that I fear we’ve embarrassed some hosts when going on autopilot and trying to clean up as adults! The other was that, if there is bread or a similar item on the table, you can have one (slice/bun/whatever) before the meal proper and one during. Taking two breadsticks before the meal resulted in having to read an etiquette book!

    My father also did always make a point of telling us if we had done well or our manners been complimented on (or if we did something bad). I think impressing on us that other people appreciated manners made us want to strive for that.

  51. We too had to asked to be excused.

  52. I think I now own all of those Munro Leaf manners books, and my children and I read them together almost obsessively! Those books say it simply, and they get it right.
    I am a complete lunatic about table manners with my children, mostly because so few people seem to have them. I try to teach my children that manners about showing others that you have respect for them – and for yourself. So even if others don’t return the favor, you continue to do it out of self-respect. They may or may not grow to despise me. ;)

  53. My dad came up with a series of sounds to make in tunnels when I was a baby–he thought that it would keep me from getting scared. How funny to see your parents had a similar practice!

    We had to ask to be excused; right now we’re just trying to get Baguette to tell us when she’s done eating, so that there isn’t a ceremonial dumping of food. Her current approach is to yell, “NOOOOOO!” as she holds out whatever she’s finished. Still better than dumping food, though.

  54. The three phrases I probably heard the most growing up:

    1. “Chew with your mouth closed, Kate.”
    2. “Two hands, Kate.”
    3. “Stop wiping your mouth on your dress, Kate.”

    My parents tried to teach my older sister to excuse herself from the table, but when she made the connection that she was supposed to say “excuse me” both when she was leaving the table AND whenever she burped, she became convinced that she couldn’t leave the table until she’d belched a good one. Kids, right? :)

  55. My mom had a very strict “no thank you bite” rule .. we could NEVER leave any food on our plate untouched! I read the Bringing Up Bebe book and told my mom that was very French of her! :)

  56. i think this post shows how important some sort of structure is to family activities. these are the markers we remember later in life and they give our children a set of boundaries that make their life easier. without boundaries and rules it’s hard to know what to expect. i think rules and choices go hand in hand.

  57. we didn’t really have table rules, but i imagine that we observed our parents and followed suit. when we were done with our meal we had to “scrape the plate” of leftovers into the trash (we didn’t have a garbage disposal) and put our dirty dishes in the sink.

    my parents are both pretty no-nonsense and grew up with immigrant parents which probably influenced their parenting. they weren’t all about “rules” but they didn’t mess around either. one thing i know that is unusual for american households is that we couldn’t talk back EVER. EVER. i don’t even know what the punishment would have been since we respected them too much to even try!

  58. I had a terrible habit of putting my elbows on the table until we visited my grandmother – she abides by the ditty that “Joints on the table will be carved!” I was also taught that when listing people your name should always be at the end – “my friends and I” rather than “me and my friends”.

  59. Such great wisdom from your parents! Our rules now are 1. No whining at the table or you are excused without dinner 2. You have to try at least 1 bite of everything. I have super picky eaters and I just grew too tired of the complaining when I made something they didn’t pefer. There’s always at least one thing I know they’ll eat served at each meal so I know they won’t starve. After a night or two of following through with the consequences we now have a peaceful dinner table, and my kids have started to venture outside their normal food boxes :)

  60. Y says...

    Dinner table manners are super important in Korean culture so before a meal we always say something like (rough English translation since there is no exact equivalent in English) I will eat this meal deliciously, and after a meal we always say (rough translation again) I ate this meal deliciously. And you don’t start eating until the oldest person/head of the house takes their first bite.


  61. Growing up we always screamed “Aaaaahhhhhhh!” when we went through tunnels, and I still do it, even though it means getting some strange looks when new people ride in the car. We always try to do it in one breath, making some of the long tunnels in California a real doozy to drive through.

  62. My dad always told us to use our manners at all times, because one day we would be at a business lunch and they would come naturally. This was so true when I was at lunch with my boss and another coworker at my first “real” job. I couldn’t help but notice and be a little embarrassed by her bad manner. Thank you Dad!

  63. The shouting in tunnels thing is so funny! My mom had a lot of weird rules that I still find myself following (and trying to get others to follow) – i.e., you must dry off completely before you get out of the shower, because no one wants to step on a wet bathmat!


    Kristina does the Internets

  64. My dad gave me some parenting advice: He said, “If kids are not raised with good manners, they will end up thinking that everyone else is getting chosen first, treated better and given more advantages in life, and they’ll never know what they are doing wrong. So, you’re not doing your kids any favors if you don’t teach them good manners.”

    I love that advice, but I’m not sure if I’m following it enough! Our house is VERY informal, and our kids are little, so things may change a bit as they get older. My dinner table rules for our kids are:

    Don’t eat until everyone is seated.
    Stay at the table until you are done.
    No toys at the table.
    Use please and thank you.
    Listen when someone else is talking.
    Clear your plate and wash your hands when you are done.
    Don’t take the last serving without offering it around.
    No going into the kitchen for something without asking around if anyone else wants some.
    You have to taste everything, even if it is only a tiny nibble or lick.
    And, believe it or not…. no bare bottoms at the table!

    I love your one finger rule, and am definitely going to try it for my family!

  65. Oh yes, we had a lot of dinner table rules. My mother went to a finishing school (thanks grandma!). We had the “No Elbows on the table”, “No talking with your mouth full of food” etc. etc. etc. And then the table always had to be set in a certain way… fork,knife, spoon, folded napkin, glass in their place. We always ate at the dinner table… not like today where a lot of families eat their dinner infront of the tv.

  66. I love those rules. We talk a lot about “inside voices” especially since my daughter is going through a screeching stage. My son is like a little man and likes to enforce that rule with other kids :) We also talk a decent bit about showing respect with our voice/words. the thing I like about the rules you shared is they are very easy/tangible for kids to understand!

  67. We definitely had rules! Elbows were never on the table during dinner (after dinner when the plates were cleared and you were just talking you could be more comfortable and lean in,) always try everything on your plate (if you didn’t prefer something you were NEVER to draw attention to it because you’d never want to embarrass the host- just don’t eat it,) napkin in the lap, start eating only once the host/chef eats, always say yes ma’am/sir or no ma’am/sir, always say please, thank you, you’re welcome etc., say “excuse me” instead of “what,” chew with your mouth closed, say “excuse me” if you needed to speak to someone who was in a conversation… and tons more.

    It seems like a lot when you write it out, but looking back I am SO grateful my parents did that. I’m never worried about looking out of place in a formal setting (we always ate on real plates, with cloth napkins, and candles -which I love-and we were taught which water glass was ours, which bread plate, and so on.) I also always feel polite and respectful.

    Now that it’s second nature, I actually cringe when I see people holding a fork the incorrect way, or “smacking” with their mouths open. I know sometimes people worry about being too uptight, but I think as long as you reenforce things lovingly, it won’t feel harsh or strict. Plus, if you don’t start young, it just allows bad habits to form.

    Of course, my parents also had “date night” EVERY Saturday night (minus the one time I fell out of a tree and we ended up in the hospital. whoops.) Our grandmother would come over, my sister and I would get a “special” kids meal- pizza, tv dinner, whatever, and get to watch it in front of the tv. We still ate with forks and knives and used our napkins, but it showed us the difference and importance of “settings” (and gave my parents much needed adult time to go have dinner, go dancing, whatever they wanted!)

  68. I haven’t had a chance to read through all the comments, so this may have been mentioned. My mother insisted I greet my friend’s parent(s) first before running off to play with them (“Hello Mrs. XYZ”)and, likewise, say goodbye and thank you to them upon leaving their home (“thank you for having me Mr. XYZ). I recall many of my friends (and some parents) thinking it was a bit formal and unnecessary (every time at a good friends home), but generally I think it was a good habit to instill. She also had me write my own thank you notes for gifts starting around age 6 or 7. I never saw this as a chore and still love doing this today.

  69. Man, I live in Norway and there are SO many tunnels here – our road trips would have been a nightmare!

  70. We didn’t have a lot of rules growing up, but our family now has the following:
    no talking with your mouth full, napkin in lap, no super silly behavior (singing, playing, rude behavior, etc). Otherwise, it is our time to catch up, share stories and discuss our day. We live in the south so it’s never “what”, but “ma’am?” or “sir?”. Yes and No are also followed by whichever is applicable. It’s very old fashioned but so nice to hear. xo

  71. I honestly don’t remember any rules like those growing up. I am an only child so, I unno if that makes a difference…lol. I loved reading this post about yours though!
    <3 Dana @ This Silly Girl’s Life

  72. My son is now 15 but when he was young, his sitter was an incredible 70-something woman. She taught him to ask to be excused from the table, to hold open doors for women, and she also taught him the saying “You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.”
    Whenever we go eat with my friends, they always comment on what exceptional manners my son has. I just smile and say, “Yeah. It’s great, isn’t it?!”

  73. I love that one finger rule!

    At my parents’ house the number one rule was definitely that we always, ALWAYS put napkins on our laps. To this day, even when I’m eating in the car like a generation Y slob, I put a napkin on my lap.

  74. Love this. I was raised with similar rules and feel acutely aware of when parents don’t teach them to their children (when I was a teacher, my colleagues and I could usually tell which children were taught these and which weren’t!). No doubt Toby will be as kind and considerate as you in restaurants! I swear your readers, as I do, must just respect and adore you more and more with each post.

  75. The one-finger rule is great. I’m going to borrow that one. Hmmm…in our house it was always “the kitchen is closed after dinner” so we would sneak snacks as if my mom didn’t notice. She did, of course, but was probably too exhausted to bother with us.

  76. Well, when I’d visit my grandmother (who only speaks spanish), every time she asked a question I’d have to respond “Si señora” or “No señora”, which means “Yes ma’am, No ma’am”. If I didn’t respond that way she’d say “Si que?”, “Yes what?” and I’d have to say it. Now that I’m older I realize how great that really was. I’m always complimented on how polite I am :)

  77. My college roommate’s mom taught her to always keep one hand on the buggy (or shopping cart, as some say) at all times to avoid getting lost in grocery stores. Even years later as a college student, she always walked through the store with one hand on the buggy.

  78. My sister and I were in a preprofessional dance program and my dad was a lawyer with late hours, so we ate dinner on “European time” around 9ish or later. Our rules were that we had to come to dinner fully dressed (no bare feet–had to have socks or slippers; no pjs or dance/athletic clothing). We had to say Grace before our meals and drink milk and eat our veggies. No clean plate club but we did have to eat our salad and vegetables. We had to use the correct utensils, cut our food into pieces and finish everything on our plates before taking a second serving. We never had dessert unless it was a special occassion. We always asked to be excused and cleared our own plates. My mom had a rule that you had to wait to be excused until everyone was finished and talk about current events from the news and your day. We always used good china and glassware and the table was always beautifully set even though we ate a lot of appetizers and take out. :)My parents were the king/queen of the rotisserie chicken, salad, a green vegetable, rice or a starch and a fruit or second vegetable, mostly from the prepared foods section of our local grocery store.

  79. My grandmother had this funny old saying “If you sing at the table, you’ll marry a fool!” Even though the concept was so over our heads, it cracked us up – and kept us from singing!

  80. So many rules as a child:

    No singing
    No wiping mouth on clothing
    No biting forks
    No slurping
    Clear the dishes and 3 kids= 1 wash, 1 dry, and 1 put away
    No chewing with mouth open
    No playing with food
    No “dancing” (basically sit still while eating)
    No wasting food
    Try everything at least once

    I actually like the rules now and didn’t mind them as a child! Glad my parents cared enough about how to eat properly at the table :)

  81. My mother would instruct us not to chew with our mouth open, or talk with food in our mouth. Of course in her more flustered moments this turned into, “don’t talk with your mouth open!”, “don’t chew with your mouth closed!” and other such confusing phrases :)

    • We also had assigned seating at the table. This wasn’t on purpose – it was just that over the years of eating dinner together night after night the four of us gravitated towards the same seats.

      It’s such a strong feeling that even now (I’ve been living outside of my parent’s home for five years) every time I am home it feels weird to eat at a different seat at the table during meal times.

      Relatives and boyfriends always learn quickly where they are encouraged to sit. There is a similar feeling at the dining room table as well.

  82. My parents were always pretty strict, but I am thankful for it now. At the dinner table, the three rules I remember the most:

    1) ALWAYS cut your food into bites and then eat it. If we ever had a big piece of food on our forks and then nibbled away at it, my Dad would say, “That is not a Pppsicle! Cut your food!!!”

    2) No elbows on that table. That was a big one too.

    3) We could not leave the table until we ate our vegetables. Some nights, we would sit there forever and my parents would just say, “It gets worse as it gets colder.” I HATED it, but am so, so thankful for that now.

  83. My two brothers and I each got to pick ONE food that we never had to eat. That food was the only exception and we had to at least try everything else. Having that one no-questions-asked freebie made it so we didn’t mind trying everything else!

  84. To keep from touching everything in stores, my mom would make my brother and me put our hands in our pockets. Same went for car trips. If we starting fighting (hitting, pokin, slapping, etc) she’d make us sit on our hands. :]

  85. MJ says...

    We had strict WASPy dinner manners brought down on us by my mother who grew up in a 700 sqft house with three siblings (necessitating good manners, lest my grandmother go crazy). Table manners is one thing that causes arguments between my husband and myself because of how structured mealtimes were for me.

    1) When called for dinner, you first wash your hands and come immediately (the smell test would happen for those who may have cheated). 2) Nobody starts eating until the cook (often my mother, sometimes my father) sat down. 3) Napkins on laps (all sails below deck!). 4) No elbows on the table. 5) No singing at the table (except Christmas carols at Christmas). 6) Bring your fork to your mouth, not your mouth to your fork. 7) Never chew with your mouth open. 8) Don’t slurp your soup. 9) Wait until everyone is done eating to leave the table. 10) Clear your own dishes. 11) When dinner is over, there is no more food for the rest of the evening. If you are still hungry, you should have eaten more dinner!

    • These sound a lot like our rules! And I love “all sails below deck” – I’ll have to remember that line for when I have my own kids :-) I never thought of any of this as very strict though (other than being forced to eat cold leftovers for breakfast when I refused to eat my dinner) – it was just what we did.

  86. My family didn’t have too many strictly enforced table rules. To encourage my younger brothers (6 and 9) to stay at the table after they finish scarfing their food, we started calling it “Family Bonding Time.” Now, my youngest brother will tell the nine-year old: “Matt, you have to stay for Family Bonding.” They get really excited to tell us about their days at school. Too cute.

    I think this “Manners On/ Manners Off” dinner idea from A Subtle Revelry sounds like a great way to teach your kids about appropriate manners.
    How to Teach Dinner Party Manners to Kids

    It reminds me of the idea behind your parent’s roadtrip rule:there is a time and a place for silliness and for good behavior.

  87. This brings back so many memories! Someone mentioned the what/pardon rule, which reminded me of when I was a kid and my mother would say “don’t say what, say pardon!” Unfortunately I am slightly deaf, so what started with good manners eventually lead to; “stop saying pardon all the time!!”

  88. Echoing what others have stated, my parents had a “take what you want, but want what you take” rule, which seemed pretty reasonable at the time. I was expected to try every food presented, and they used the argument that your taste buds change all the time. As an adult, I’m now an extremely adventurous eater. There’s only one thing I don’t particularly like – mushrooms! Perhaps someday, I’ll learn to tolerate them.

    One mannerism that I teach my eighth grade students is to say “thank you” when someone hands something to you. It’s polite, and it signals that you are holding it and will not drop it.

  89. all great ideas–your parents rock!

    i was an only child until my parents had a surprise baby when i was 10, so for most of growing up, we were a sort of trio. i was allowed to watch any movie or show with them so long as i did not repeat the words haha.

    i realize now it was sort of a gamble, but i turned out fine! :)

  90. When we were finalyl (finally!) allowed to start answerting the telephone, we had to answer “Bonenfant residence, this is [insert name here] speaking.” I hated it back then (as I suppose all kids do when learning manners) but I love that idea now!

  91. As a child we had the same rules. We had to ask the person at the head of the table to be excused, napkin on our lap, no elbows on the table, and had to eat with our mouths closed. My mom would always say..”When you are older and go out on a date, you are going to thank me for teaching you table manners.” Turns out she was right all along. :)

  92. We had to answer the phone with “Hello, may I ask who is calling?”

    Which, when said by a teenager: “Hellomayiaskwhosecalling?”

  93. Growing up I was never to address an adult by their first name. I called them Mr. or Mrs. ______. Then answering their questions always with “Ma’am” or “Sir” at the end. I still feel uncomfortable addressing anyone significantly older than me by their first name.

  94. My mom’s two biggest rules were no yelling– if you called “MOOOOOOOMMMM!!” from upstairs, she would stop what she was doing, walk upstairs, come to where you were and say, “I heard you. What is it?” And we would always feel so bad for being lazy and making her come to us that we eventually stopped :) Her second one was that we couldn’t talk to her if she was in the bathroom or on the phone (especially important because she worked from home). I remember writing so many notes like “Can I go to the mall with Stephanie? [] Yes [] No” — oh and the whole “May I”/”Will you” distinction of using proper English. It seemed nitpicky at the time, but it has paid off!

    • Except maybe when I was writing those notes, clearly :)

  95. My parents always insisted on the following at dinner for my two younger sisters and I:
    Everyone must finish one glass of milk
    You had to eat one bite of vegetables for every year old you were (until age 10)
    No one was allowed to sit at the table until dad got home from work
    Everyone cleared their own dishes and then kept going until the entire table was cleared. Anything the could easily go in the refrigerator needed to be put away (ketchup, milk, etc) and after the last item was removed from the table it needed to be wiped with a damp cloth.

    My grown sisters, their boyfriend/fiance, my husband and I all still abide by the last one….

  96. Whoah the tunnel rule is genius! We totally had a bunch of table manner rules. My grandparents had this book called The Goops, about a group of terribly mannered children. Every year we’d have a “Goop Dinner” outside and we couldn’t use any good manners-or utensils. It was always hilarious and messy.
    ps. The Goops on Amazon:

  97. Love the one finger rule! That is genius!

    We definitely had table manners – but my parents always did it with humor. To get us to use our utensils my dad would always say “Use the fork, Luke!” (in the Star Wars voice. Get it? We’d giggle every time).

    We had the same as everyone else: no elbows, no shoveling food in your mouth with your face right in the plate, asked to be excused, ask if anyone would like the last roll, piece of meat, etc before taking it.

    The other dinner time “rule” is that we each had to say what we learned that day. It could be something as simple as how to jump out of the swing – but we all had to share something about our day. I loved it and we never lacked for conversation at our table!

  98. THANK YOU for the 1 finger rule :) Went shopping with our little guy this weekend and was about to swear off any more shopping adventures!

  99. Your parents sound like wonderful parents. I love the touching rule and I know you’re not alone on this. When I sell my jewelry at craft shows – so many people do this. I’d never ever seen this before, but I get kids, adults, etc and they come up and put one finger on my jewelry when they are browsing. Their parents must have had this same rule.

    Right now my LO is strapped down at the table, but we definitely plan to introduce him to the needing to ask before he gets down. I have to admit, my parents didn’t have a lot of rules, things were freeform. But, I like the idea of instilling some basic manners in my child :)

  100. These are the best! My parents definitely taught us the “Thank you for the great meal, may I please be excused?” thing :) I still say it, even though I’m grown up!

  101. Yes, I also had to say, “may I be excused please” and taught my children to do the same. One thought this is what we were teaching him to say, “may be a goose please?”
    We also had the tunnel rule, but with that we would roll down all the windows no matter how cold it was outside, scream as loud as we could, and honk the horn numerous times!
    One rule that I grew up with that I did not pass on to my children was, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.” I have horrible memories of having to clean my plate after being quite full. I did have the rule of everybody had to try everything that I had prepared. No preparing different foods for different members of our family.

  102. Yes, we had to asked to be excused from the table. It was easy to do at home, but when we went to dinner at a friend’s house (or my parents’ friends) we had to ask the HOST if we could be excused. This led to me sitting at the dinner table for a long time after I was done eating because I was too shy to speak up to the host. It was good training though, when I think about it now.

  103. My Mom’s number one rule was that we were NEVER allowed to say the work “Hate”. I have very liberal parents, so we didn’t have tons of rules beside the basics (please and thank you, general manners, and being kind to everyone). But if my Mom heard one of us saying the word hate, even if we were talking about an object, not a person, there would be hell to pay. Looking back I love that that was the number one rule we had, it’s made me realize that hate isn’t a feeling you need to have in life.

    • I have this rule (about food at least) for my 2- and 4-year old. They have to try a bite of everything, just a bite, and I ask them to say something is “not my favorite” rather than “I hate this” or “I don’t like this.” Sounds like silly semantics, but I figure it will prevent them offending someone’s mom at some point. And who knows, maybe subconsciously it will help them keep their minds open about foods that have previously been “not my favorite.”

  104. Also, do you remember how in the book Cheaper by the Dozen, anybody who caught anybody else with their elbows on the dinner table was allowed to sneak around and bang the offending elbows as hard as possible on the tabletop? Not sure who’d do that these days, but I bet it was effective.

    • We used to do that! We adored catching our parents out because they couldn’t tell us not to “bang their elbows.”

  105. We were taught to “eat with the Queen”. The Queen always chewed with her mouth closed, engaged in conversation, asked “would you please pass the butter”, kept her elbows off the table, held her knife and fork correctly, placed them in the correct spot at the end of the meal, and yes – asked to be excused before leaving the table. :) Thinking that we were “eating with the Queen” made manners sort of fun.

  106. This is so fantastic. We had no elbows at the table and no TV at dinner. If my Dad was at the table, we’d always have some sort of discussion/debate. I think this backfired on him- when I was in my 20s, I got a little too good at our dinner table debates and he got so mad.

  107. I learned most of my table rules at camp of all places. If we passed a glass by holding it on the rim where people drink, we would have to stand on our chair and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” at the top of our lungs. Doing that once in front of your friends is enough to make you never do it again, that’s for sure. ;)

    • I remember NOT having to do those punishments at camp because my mom was a stickler for table manners. But those lunches when someone got caught with their elbows on the table were always fun, especially when it was a counselor who had to skip around the dining hall while the whole room sang.

  108. That Manners book is FABULOUS, as is the companion book, ‘How to Behave and Why’ — we own both and just yesterday my 6 yr old brought over the How to Behave book and asked to read it with me — she is so into it! Wanted to discuss every behavior lesson in the book :)

  109. Oh my parents were so strict on these, but I did come from a rather posh, blue-blooded family. No talking with food in one’s mouth, no chewing with one’s mouth open, no elbows on the table, napkin folded in half in one’s lap, one must put one’s fork down on the plate between each bite and one must not pick it back up until the bite is completely swallowed, no slurping, no gulping, and one must drink a full glass of water before leaving the table. We were charged 25¢ per infraction, which to a child with no allowance (none needed really) seemed enormous! Now I’m quite grateful, as my manners are habitually impeccable.

  110. My folks were definitely big on table manners, including the asking to be excused, and also not answering just “WHAT??” when they were calling us from across the house. We were supposed to say, “Yes, Mom/Dad?” :) Another thing my mom had us do was always write out thank-you cards for Christmas and birthday gifts. I appreciate that more now that I’m older.

  111. Those rules are so smart!

    This isn’t a dinner manner, but it’s a rule my father had in general: If someone asked us if we wanted Option A or Option, the correct response was “I have no preference” instead of “I don’t care.” I used to roll my eyes when he corrected me (especially as a teenager!), but now I am so glad he ingrained that in me. The same was true for “Pardon?” instead of “What?” It’s such a great small speech habit, but I feel it makes a huge difference in how one is perceived. Especially in a professional setting!

    • Oops, it should be “Option A or Option B.” :)

    • That is a really smart thing to do, I am always saying “I don’t care” which frustrates me because I do care just not about that particular thing so I am going to start doing this!

  112. My parents always made us try one bit of everything on our plate. We didn’t have to finish everything, we just had to try it all. I swear this makes for adventurous eaters later in life. It’s definitely a rule I employ with my own kids, and as a result they’re pretty good eaters.
    We also have the ‘May I be excused from the table’ rule… but I’ve never made them say how delicious the meal was. I’m going to start this straight away! :)
    When we were little, we would go around the table and each one of us had to tell about one thing we did that day, and one thing we learned. We weren’t allowed to say ‘nothing’. We always had to come up with something we learned, even if it was silly. I like this idea as it gives everyone the chance to speak at the table. (Sometimes I feel like everyone is always speaking over everyone, and then there’s me… saying ‘eat your food’, ‘don’t use your sleeve as your napkin’, ‘sit up straight’, ‘don’t teeter in your chair’, ‘take another bite’, etc.
    xx Courtney

  113. yes! we had the same tunnel rule. i’ll never forget one wintry afternoon, my three sisters and i were driving in a car with our uncle, who was unaware of appropriate tunnel behavior. as we drove into the tunnel, the four of us began yelling at the top of our lungs. needless to say, my uncle nearly crashed the car, and the four of us were nothing but delighted to have taught him our family trick.

  114. We had rules! Same as yours for dinner, except we would try to one-up each other in complimenting my mom. “Mom, dinner was GREAT!” “No mom, it was DELICIOUS.” “No, it was SCRUMPTIOUS!” (And scrumptious was the highest we could ever think of.) I still do it at home.

  115. I love those rules! They’re so important I think. My Mum was strict about no elbows on the table, no chewing with your mouth open, no scraping your cutlery on your teeth! xx

  116. I love genius parents that combine fun and rules :) I wish I become one.

  117. I love that one finger rule!

    We had rules – we all ate together, no ball caps at the table, food had to be put on our plate first and then eaten – I think it’s a really good place to practice manners while at home so that everyone is prepared for dining out.

  118. Oh man, were manners important in our house!

    Elbows off the table; asking to be excused; thanking mum for dinner (and telling her it was delicious); no talking with your mouth full; no leaving the table until you’ve finished everything; knife and fork placed together when you’re finished to indicate that you’re done; knife in right hand, fork in left hand; no shoveling.

    The list is endless! Needless to say, while I hated some of these, I do think manners are important. My husband disagrees so we’ll see where our future children end up!

  119. I’m from a family of nine so rules and systems were essential to keep things running smoothly – not Captain Von Trapp strict or anything, but things like the buddy system (always pairing an older + younger sibling on outings to make sure no one got lost); clothing label dot system (we wore about 75% hand-me-downs, and to distinguish clothes Mom would put a dot on the label – if you were the 5th child, you had 5 dots, and once it passed down to the next child she just added a dot); and the clutter basket (a basket kept at the foot of the stairs where you could toss ‘clutter’ during the day, and we took turns whose job it was to empty and put away at the end of the day)

    • also, I realized that was more about systems than rules, but… those stick out more to me in retrospect than the rules actually do!

  120. Those rules are so practical and adorable. Your parents were geniuses. We had to ask to be excused as well and say thank you and kiss whichever parent cooked the meal on the cheek. Pickiness was not allowed, but we were promised dessert if we ate everything on our plate first. One cute tradition I really appreciate now is that we were trained to tell everyone in our family “I love you.” Even cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It made us all so close growing up, so that, even now that we’re adults and we go years without seeing extended family members, we still say “I love you.”

  121. My parents were never strict with rules, and for us, it worked out okay. We were always well behaved and still have mostly good manners. (The only thing is–and this is really embarrassing–I just realized that I chew with my mouth open; I had no clue, and my parents and brother also do it! I am working so hard to stop it but as a 26 year old it’s a little tricky!)

    I think having TOO many rules can be really hard on kids. I had a good friend in college who had tons of rules (almost to a militant level) enforced by one parent as a child, and she ended up being really hard on me as a result. I understand that kids can’t be allowed to run free, but requiring perfect manners from a child, especially at the family dinner table, also seems silly and outdated to me.

  122. i had to ask “may i be excused?” too… and whenever i answered the phone i had to say “workman residence, how may i help you?”

    haha… so funny looking back on it! i love your moms 1 finger rule… however the tunnel rule might drive me crazy!

    xx, kara

  123. We make our kids ask to be excused and there’s nothing cuter than my 3-year-old asking “M’excuse?” He sounds French, but really he’s just in a rush to play!

    I read somewhere that Joe Kennedy’s rule was “you talk world affairs or you don’t talk” at the dinner table. I joke about instituting that, maybe in a few years when the kids are older than 3 and 5.

    • In some families, all members only reunite at dinner so it seems weird not to talk at the table which means not being able to share the events of the day with a father you maybe last saw in the morning…

  124. Mabel, Mabel, get your elbows off the table!

    We had required etiquette for dinner – especially if Mrs. Manners herself (my Grandmother… we called her “The Queen” as in “Would you do that if the queen were here?”) came to dinner.

    Pass to the right.
    Chew with your mouth closed
    Never talk with your mouth full (surprisingly many adults have a problem with this one!)
    Clear the table starting with someone else’s plate.
    Never stack dishes at the table.
    Napkin in your lap.
    Don’t slouch.
    Fill other’s water glass before your own.

    I love great manners now!

    • I love that your napkin was meant for your lap. I do this at fast food restaurants. I just don’t like the idea of a messy napkin being seen by strangers. Also don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s funny how my parents stressed this, and yet don’t do it themselves. And only my youngest sister and I don’t talk with our mouths full. I actually lull conversations because I wait to swallow before talking.

  125. Manners are so important! When I was a little girl and my mom called my name from across the house, the correct answer was, “ma’am?” not, “what?”. Maybe that’s a southern thing?

    • It’s a polite thing! ;) I think “what?” sounds so rude! xx

  126. The tunnel rule applies to my family as well, and if I ever have kids I will make sure they follow the rule too. Although my best friends family taught me to hold your breath and make a wish while going through tunnels. So dependant on what’s on my mind I alternate between the two.

  127. I think our biggest dinner-table rule was “no singing,” because most of us (all except my dad) tend to sing all the time, for no reason at all. Now that I live with my fiance, and I realize I can do whatever I want, there is singing at the table.

    • I love this! My husband and I sing all the time, too, usually making up silly words. I hope my son does it with us. He already likes to dance :)

    • We had to have this rule for some time when my siblings and I were younger! Can’t remember why! Now we’re a bit older, it tends to get enforced much less. My cousins did used to hum constantly at the table, which was the most annoying thing ever- not even tunes, just a monotonous drone.

    • We had the no singing/whistling rule too – as a family of musicians, though, someone was ALWAYS humming and if we hadn’t put a curb to it the dinner table would’ve been cacophony. Now that we’re all older the occasional chorus of something suggested by conversation is allowed :-)

  128. When I was around 10 or 11, my parents gave me, “Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers.” It was genius, because I was at that age where I was so tickled to be confused with a teenager, I’d read anything meant for them– even a Table Manners guide. We read it together on a long weekend at a nearby ski lodge and practiced at the local pizza shop. My parents and I still laugh to this day about practicing “rest position” (utensils crossed at 4- and 7-o’clock to signal you’re still eating) with plastic utensils on paper plates and tested each other on the golden rules. It did the trick! I’ve got my table manners down cold.

  129. Haha, I love this! Your parents are geniuses. :)

    It’s not really about manners, but growing up a couple of my siblings and I had some medical problems and we got our blood drawn a lot. Before getting our blood drawn, my dad would always say “You can cry, but you can’t scream.” Such a wonderful choice ;-) Afterwards we ALWAYS got peanut m&ms, which made everything better.

  130. I love that tunnel rule! A rule in our family was that each one of us could pick one dish or type of food that we did not like and we did not have to eat. All the other stuff we had to eat (of course my mom did know which other things we didn’t like and I’m sure she didn’t buy that too often, but this we did not realize at the time). It worked really well, because we were not (and still aren’t) fussy eaters. Another rule for us when we were playing outside was that we had to go back home immediately when the street lights went on. Which was really smart, because we couldn’t tell time yet and we did not have a mobile phone. ;)

    • OMG! this staff-not-to-eat rule is just genius. Tomorrow I’m quitting cooking 2 or 3 dishes every day (one for a toddler, one for a preschooler and one for a school boy – just because they all like different things)!!! Tomorrow a brand new and brilliant life of mine is going to take its toll:) THANK YOU!

  131. Oh man, the rules! Whenever we would leave a restaurant or a social even (more as we got older) my mom would give us a review, hitting what she though we did well (Lucy, you had great eye contact when you said hello to the host) and what we did not (But you need to work on not interrupting me when I am talking to someone). I hated it at the time but now I see how that feedback still shapes my own interactions with people and I think for the better. Also, Christmas thank you notes had to be finished and mailed by New Year’s Day and when we were teenagers we could wear our pajamas to church as long as we went.

  132. We had to ask to be excused, but that was the extent of it. We are trying to teach our 2 year old that even if they don’t eat all their food, but have to wait until the rest of the family is done with dinner (or at least one of the parents) and then ask to be excused. We’ll see if it sticks ;)

    – Sarah

    • I love that rule! I think “What?”, or even worse, “Huh?” sound so rude, and I know many adults who do this.

  133. I had the “may I please be excused rule”! I totally thought it was only us, too. We also had to say “pardon me” instead of “what?” :)

  134. I find as a parent that nothing brings me greater joy than another parent, teacher, scout leader or even stranger saying to me, “Your child has excellent manners” or “Your children are so well behaved”. The latter especially on an airplane. These bring tears to my eyes and make me realize even when things are hectic, or someone is sick or stomping their feet that I am indeed doing something right.

  135. martha, that’s so cute. maybe he can write it when he grows up:)

  136. We had a lot of table rules – ask to be excused, thank the cook (mom or dad) for the meal, no elbows on the table, and no chewing with your mouth open. To this day people chewing food or gum with their mouth open makes me stabby.

    • It would make me feel pretty stabby myself.

    • Yes! My boss is forever talking with food in her mouth and it makes me want to leap across the desk and smack her. My parents rules were similar to yours: asking to be excused, no elbows on the table, no chewing with mouth open and NO talking with your mouth full! My dad used to say we had to learn good table manners in case we ever had dinner with the Queen…no idea why I believed that was likely, but it was motivation! Haha.

  137. A funny story about manners–my son will be three in November, so he’s a bit older than Toby. His great-aunt gave him a book called “Manners at School”, which is pretty irrelevant since he has never been to school. Every time we read it he asks “What about “Manners at Playground?” I love that he imagined a book title that was more applicable to him. :)
    I love the one finger rule, I’m going to try that.

    • I’d love to hear what he would want playground manners to be, he obviously has something in mind!

  138. For the tunnel rule: Now that I have a restless toddler myself, I see how genius they were for giving us a sense of control, letting us release energy and feel playful, and still keeping most of the trip feeling civilized (and themselves sane). So many of our parents random rules make so much sense looking back! :)