Children's poor table manners blighting family mealtimes

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 3:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 3:57 pm
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Are your messy eaters casting a shadow over the family Christmas dinner?

Have you ever sat at the dinner table in despair while your children mutate the meal you have prepared for them into the detritus of a chimps’ tea party?

Or how about fighting off an intense urge to launch it into the nearest dustbin - plates and all - as your announcement that said food is on the table falls on deaf ears?

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And then there is that mother of all parent-guilt inducing responses: worn down by the weariness of habitual mealtime conflict, you simply do nothing - grateful the grandparents aren’t present and you have been spared a lecture on how this would never have happened on their watch.

Fear not my friend, you are not alone.

Fifteen percent of polled parents say mealtimes are 'a nightmare'

According to a recent study, more than half of the 1,500 UK-based parents polled say they find most family mealtimes ‘hugely challenging’, while 15 percent dubbed every mealtime ‘a nightmare’.

The nationwide research, which quizzed parents of children aged from four to ten years old, revealed 28 percent admit their offspring’s table manners are ‘terrible’ - with 31 percent feeling constantly stressed about how much mess their little ones make at mealtimes.

More than half of British parents admit their youngsters don’t use a knife and fork properly, with 60 percent of children often abandoning all cutlery and eating food with their hands, while 55 percent constantly pick at food with their fingers.

Almost a quarter of UK children often lick their knife, despite being told not to, while nearly a fifth will even lick their plate if they get the chance, according to the findings.

“This research highlights how challenging mealtimes can be for many parents - and with good reason as the onset of portable screens has replaced the family mealtime in many households,” said paediatric feeding specialist, speech therapist Stacey Zimmels.

“The result is very little role modelling, and because children are not eating with their families, they can be less exposed to a varied diet and have no demonstration of how to use cutlery.

“The good news is, making a few simple changes can make all the difference. Eating as much as possible as a family and showing little ones how to eat with age-appropriate utensils designed for small hands will lead to positive experiences around the dinner table and much less mess.”

Children’s table manners appear to have changed since their parents were younger (Credit: Shutterstock)

Almost half of parents polled let their children watch TV at mealtimes

In fact, 46 percent of parents polled admit they let their children watch TV at the table, and more than a third allow them to play with a tablet or phone during mealtimes, just to make the whole process go more smoothly.

A weary 41 percent say they let their children do whatever they want at dinnertime, because they feel it is just not worth arguing over.

The study, commissioned by doddl, found that 28 percent of parents say their children always talk with their mouths full - something that they themselves would have been told off for doing at the same age.

Catherine Dodd, founder of doddl, said: “The research results resonated strongly with me. Quite honestly, I dreaded mealtimes, watching my children struggle with cutlery and experiencing so much stress and mess every single day.”

The survey found almost a quarter of mums and dads often feel humiliated when they eat out at a restaurant with their children - to the point that one fifth admit they will skip a meal out altogether to avoid the embarrassment.

It seems that children’s table manners have changed since their parents were younger.

More than a third of those polled say their children frequently refuse to come to the table when they are called, and 36 percent admit their offspring always leave the table without asking - even though this was something they never did when they were young.

Many parents claim to have a much softer approach with their own children when it comes to behaviour at the dinner table.

Only 38 percent of children will finish their greens, despite their parents doing so at their age.

However, 76 percent of mums and dads give their children pudding no matter what they eat during the main course.