I feel manners are extremely important at a table. It effects how others perceive you, and if others want to be around you. That said, I know less about the hidden benefits of table manners than I do other areas. So I asked my friend, Diane Kern of Phenomenal Mind to give us some insights. I think that we are becoming more aware of the physical cost related to a poor food relationship. I knew the family connection that can grow at the dinner table. Until I spoke with Diane, I did not fully realize the mental advantages a positive relationship with food can bring to us. Can food be used to lower the number of people with ADD; not through its nutrition, but through the manners that come with a strong relationship with food? The idea intrigues me. How about you?
The dining table represents a window of opportunity for much to be accomplished. Interestingly it is only with the loss of that ritual that we understand it’s role in the scheme of things. It is a window of opportunity to teach values by actions, not a bad way to teach values. It is a window of opportunity to lay a foundation for working with natural body systems to maintain health. And, yes, it is a window of opportunity to strengthen the impulse control system of your child, no small gift.
The number of values reinforced with introduction of table manners for children is considerable. Imbedded in the protocol is (among other things);
Respect for the efforts of the cook. No one begins to eat until all are seated.
- Consideration for the sensibilities of others
In this case, table mates. Have you ever watched someone literally shovel large quantities of food into their mouth with food stuff falling off the fork?
Fewer mistakes are made with ‘more’ attention paid to the mechanics of eating.
Your child will be ‘presentable’ in a public that cares. You will be proud of them.
Too often, the first stage of the digestive system is overlooked. Food is to be broken down before being swallowed. Salivary glands produce chemicals that aid in that process. Chewing food thoroughly exploits that system and does not then place an undue burden upon systems further down the ‘pipeline’.
Impulse Control? You Bet
As a therapist I have prescribed use of the dining hour to require use of the impulse control system. Neurological tracks carry messages to implement impulse control. Those track systems require frequent use to become efficient vehicles for carrying control messages.
These days, as so many environments are structured to include and entertain children, there are fewer environments that require that children use their impulse control system. Many children I have treated for ADD respond very quickly to situations that present them with a frequent demand for impulse control.
I suggest making a game of it.
Going on a picnic? Don’t let them fly out of the car. Ask them to stand beside the car and hand them something to carry. They will eye the playground while exercising restraint and carrying things to the table.
At the dinner table? Play a game that ‘ritualizes uses of manners’, Smile but wait for the ‘cook’ to be seated and place his or her napkin in their lap. Let the cook take the first bite. Remark upon how ‘very nice’ that is. Niceness is underrated.
Every instance of efforts to exercise restraint enhances the functionality of the impulse control system.
Talk about a win, win, win!
Diane Kern has been a practicing psychotherapist for over thirty years. She is credentialed to teach college level psychology, social science and anthropology. She has taught at California Community Colleges and Universities. She studied psychoanalytic theory and practice in the School of Criminology at the University of California at Berkeley where she earned her doctorate degree. She traveled to India to study cross-cultural conceptions of mental illness. Research was undertaken in social work agencies and at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. She has had a balanced yoga practice for twenty five years.