Why you should forego the kids' table this holiday season

family holiday dinner
CC BY 2.0 Terren in Virginia

Holidays are supposed to be about family time, but how's that going to happen if kids are relegated to a corner during the most important meal of the year?

When I was a kid, there was only one thing that marred the perfection of the holiday season for me, and that was the dreaded children’s table. Some of my cousins liked being separate from the adults; it allowed them to behave as they wished, whispering nasty comments, kicking each other under the table, and shoving roasted turnips off their plates.

Being the odd kid I was, I hated it. I wanted to be part of the adult celebration, seated at the elegant big table laid with fine china, silverware, and candles. I wanted to eat the grown-up version of the meal, even it meant roasted turnips. I loved listening to the hum of adult conversation around me.

There is some logic to having separate tables at holidays. Perhaps there’s really not enough room to fit everyone around a single table. Maybe the adults want a more relaxed dinner service that wouldn’t be suitable for impatient little ones. It’s possible you’ve planned a different menu for the juniors. But does that really justify the practice? I don’t think so.

Nor does Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appétit, who shared his opinion on the kids’ table in 2014:

“I am vehemently opposed. Thanksgiving is a family affair. Everyone should eat together. Kids can run free and break stuff after dinner.”

While breaking stuff isn’t cool, here’s why I think you should do your kids a favor and forego the kids’ table this holiday season.

Kids learn by observing adults. Even if they don’t seem to be interacting, they watch, listen, and absorb the conversations happening around them. Later they will imitate the cadences in their own conversations and mull over the topics of discussion.

Kids respond well to high expectations at the dinner table. Set an elegant table, and you’re pretty much guaranteed your kids will smarten up their table manners to match the décor. Relegate them to the corner with a bunch of other kids, unsupervised by an adult, and a pigpen will likely ensue.

Just like anything else, kids have to practice etiquette in order to become better at it, and for it to come naturally. Family dinners are the best possible place to do so, as they’re forgiving, laid-back locations. Dress your kids up, tell them to pretend they’re in a fancy restaurant, and watch them shine.

Kids need to see adults eating real food in order to learn to love it themselves. They learn to like a broad range of food by watching adults eat it, and there is accountability that comes with being at the grown-up table. They’re more likely to munch through their veggies if Great-Grandma is staring them down across the table.

Sitting with the adults makes kids feel like valued members of the family. While I realize that many kids these days hardly need to feel more important than they already do, this is about being wanted and respected as a family member, not viewed as a nuisance that must be shoved into the corner. It makes them feel important.

What do you think? Will you have a separate kids’ table at your holiday dinner this year?

Tags: Holidays | Kids


treehugger slideshows