The other day over a post-summer-vacation-catch-up lunch, some mothers were discussing their holidays abroad. Apart from the usual stories of plays watched, sights seen, restaurants visited and shopping done, we chanced upon the topic of behaviour of children. Most children-on-vacation stories are either about how much they’ve grown, how much fun they had or how independent they’ve become. This time there was a new angle — how well behaved they were. When you move in posh circles or dine in fancy restaurants, or for that matter, travel around the world; your children have no choice to behave a certain way. This time in London, I felt it even more so. Everywhere we went we would be complimented on the ‘good behaviour’ of our children. We met Indian friends whose children seemed very sophisticated and polite with a dollop of confidence thrown in. Back home, the ladies at lunch had the same stories to share. And we wondered together why our children were complimented for what we thought was average, everyday good behaviour. For the most part, I imagine it is tough for Indian kids, who are used to being monitored 24/7, usually by a nanny.
An elite Indian family travels with an entourage that always includes a nanny, and usually a driver. These kids have napkins put on their laps, food spooned into their mouths, laces tied on street corners, and someone running behind them, lest they trip and fall. But maybe, things are now changing. Maybe there is a new way to be a posh tot, and maybe it does not include nannies and spoilt children. Increasingly the more ‘chic’ thing to do, is to travel sans nanny in tow. Babysitters are a welcome hire, but it has now become all about the family bonding, and the smart and capable children. Unlike American mums, who are in general more forthcoming with their children’s development, and by that I mean, they mostly do not feel the need to restrain their children lest it hamper their independence and character development, Indian mums do still cringe if their children speak out of turn or spill something on the table. They are comfortable telling their kids to ‘behave’. Perhaps, just maybe, we are returning a little bit to our roots and realising that ‘well-behaved children’ is some kind of a good thing.
Here are my basic tips on good child etiquette:
It is ok to insist your children greet people. The ‘looking them in the eyes and saying hello’ part will eventually happen. Even if they initially hide behind our legs, sooner or later, they will come out front and do it. When you’re at a restaurant and your child does not like the food, or is bored, teach them the art of waiting and making good of what they get. Some of our children are fussy eaters – who can blame them with the kind of tailor made homemade food they’ve been brought up on! But giving them small bits and ensuring they at least try something can make a dining out experience more fun. They are compared to children who are not given choices on the table since they were born, something our kids don’t understand.
Which brings me to table manners. When on a trip, I personally think it’s okay to carry an iPad along if you’ve had a long day, and mummy and daddy want some ‘adult talk time’. But if you’re with others or this is a lunch to spend time together, it is rude to be on any electronic device. I think a book or colouring sheet is somehow less impolite.
Table manners: Teach your children to put their napkins on their laps, remind them often. They should learn to chew with their mouths closed, this becomes easier as they grow up, and not to say ‘yuck’ when a dish they do not like is presented to them.
P’s and q’s: And finally, saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ goes a long, long way. Of course children should be children, but increasingly ours are exposed to places and events at younger ages than ever before. And we live in the cocoons of our own country where children are worshipped and praised, so land in Europe, where even the dogs don’t bark loudly, suddenly our posh tots, need to posh up! Happy travels... and stay chic!