I was out to breakfast with my husband and third grade daughter recently. We had only just sat down when my daughter gleefully pointed out that Dad had his elbow on the table. “Too bad we don’t have those Golly Gee-pers! Table Manners cards,” he replied. Then I remembered. I did have a deck in my purse. I promptly pulled them out and delivered the elbows thumbs-down card to Dad. Well, before the waitress had returned with the coffee there were three people and a doll sitting up straight with their napkins in their laps eying each other suspiciously.

I’ll admit I got caught talking with food in my mouth, my daughter couldn’t keep her hands out of the cocoa (after all there were marshmallows to retrieve) and despite his efforts my husband never did get rid of that elbow card. “Not bad” I thought, after all we were in a diner not a four star restaurant.

It was then that my daughter decided she needed some motherly love and proceeded to make her way under the table and over to me. I found myself scurrying to gather up the cards and started to make a comment to the effect that “after all your good manners you’re going to ruin it by doing that?”
Then, I stopped. It occurred to me that if my child had just recited her times tables and got a few wrong I wouldn’t consider it a total math failure. After all, I wouldn’t want to discourage her. “Well, of course,” you might say. “That’s a no-brainer.” And yet, I suspect we as parents tend to lump good behavior or good manners into one big category? But, isn’t that kind of a moving target? Why bother then? It’s too hard to be perfect.

Table manners like math is plural. It consists of a group of skills. Therefore, it’s vital to stay focused on the child mastering each individual skill rather than doing everything right. So, the next time your child gets one, two or three thumbs-up cards but not the Read-To-Dine-Out card, it’s okay. He has mastered some of the skills and with encouragement the others are likely to follow.