How to Enforce Table Manners With Kids (and Adults!)

Dear Kid Whisperer,

How do I get my 7-year old kid and 38-year old husband to chew with their mouths closed at the dinner table? My usual approach is to say “please chew with your mouth closed” to no one in particular shortly after we’ve sat down to eat. But that’s getting old. I really want it to just be standard behavior, no matter when or where they are eating. Also, for the record- my husband is fully aware that he is guilty of the behavior and has encouraged me to correct him. Suggestions? -Sabrina, Phoenix, Arizona

Dear Sabrina,

Ew, gross!

Good news. You won’t have to deal with this anymore and you are going to be able to enjoy dinner without feeling nauseated. You also won’t have to lecture anyone, plead with anyone, or try to control things you can’t control.

When we set and enforce limits with people the right way, we can use the same means of doing so with kids and adults. Here’s how I would train your family members to chew with their mouths shut as I sit down for the delicious dinner that I have prepared.

Kid Whisperer: I will be happy to eat with you all and continue cooking meals for you all as long as you can eat with your mouths closed.

Dinner goes perfectly for seven and a half seconds.

Husband: (with potatoes and pasta raining down from his mouth) Brach braw blech.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, derp. When will I eat with you?

Kid Whisperer gets up from the table.

Kid: (with a waterfall of soda dripping from his mouth, and with corn falling onto his lap) Bler are you going?

Kid Whisperer walks to his room with his dinner plate, where he has already set up a tray on his bed, a TV remote, and a bottle of wine. Kid Whisperer closes the bedroom door, turns on Netflix, and sits in bed with his tray and dinner on his lap. Kid Whisperer opens the bottle of wine to let it breathe, chews with his mouth closed, and enjoys The Greatest Meal of His Life.

The next morning, at the normal breakfast time:

Kid Whisperer: Time for breakfast!

Kid and Husband come running, but become confused when they smell breakfast, but see no breakfast on the table.

Husband: I thought it was time for breakfast! Where’s breakfast?

Kid Whisperer: Oops. Sorry. I was just talking to myself. I guess I meant it’s time for breakfast for me. I made a cinnamon roll and I think I just got excited. I’ll be having breakfast in bed. Bye now.

Kid: But…

Kid Whisperer: For whom will I cook meals?

Husband: For people who chew with their mouths closed?

Kid Whisperer: Bingo.

Kid: But what are we going to eat for breakfast?

Kid Whisperer: I don’t know.

Kid Whisperer closes the door and eats a cinnamon roll in bed while watching television, which may be the best thing a person can do in life.

Kid Whisperer will continue his private cooking and eating regimen until he can get the nauseating images of his family eating out of his head. Kid Whisperer will ask his family if they think they can keep their mouths shut while eating. Kid Whisperer will cook a meal and sit down to eat said meal with his family. He will repeat the implementation of the plan, starting with one question.

Kid Whisperer: When will I cook meals for you and eat with you?

Then the process is simply repeated. Either Husband and Kid will learn quickly, or they will learn slowly. Regardless, Kid Whisperer will always either be able to have pleasant, non-disgusting meals with his family, or he will have pleasant, non-disgusting meals by himself. Either way, he has set limits with his family and taken great care of himself without getting angry or frustrated.