Robert came in for his dinner, saying that he was “starved.” He started eating rapidly, taking enormous mouthfuls, while mother looked on horrified. But his greed wasn’t as distasteful to her as the fact that he wasn’t holding his fork properly. “Your fork isn’t a dagger,” she criticized, as she took it out of his hand and handed it back to him correctly. The boy scowled and continued eating. But the interruption semed to have dulled his enthusiasm for dinner somewhat and he slumped in his chair.
It’s impossible for a child to keep interested in what he is eating if he is being nagged about his manners. An extremely hungry child may go on eating, anyway, in such a situation, but he won’t enjoy the meal and it is doubtful whether mother’s pains to change his manners will make the desired impression. One mother has special sessions for teaching manners and leaves the children alone between times.
About once a week, she sets the table with special care, as for a party. All dress up for the occasion, which is called “polite society dinner.” Part of the fun of this game is its strict formality. Corrections are matter-of-fact, and no one takes offense, because all are out to learn. “Look, Robert, this is the way to hold a spoon in polite society.” Or, “Alice, we don’t smack our lips in polite society.” Since these sessions were started, the strain has been removed from ordinary mealtimes, and the children's everyday manners have improved noticeably. — By Jane Coward, 1941
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