A purely speculative theory
What a great place the table can be for children. A baby can watch and absorb the intricacies of eye contact and communication among mom, dad, and siblings, while banging a spoon and chasing cheerios around the tray. A toddler can participate in the conversation, master the fine motor skills that direct a filled spoon into the mouth, and build a mountain out of mashed potatoes. A child can appreciate the food’s color and flavor, all while expressing definite preferences about texture.
It makes me sad when I see children at restaurants propped in front of various screens–watching a video or playing a game. Restaurants, meals at tables are some of the most stimulating and interesting places to be. Color, texture, taste, conversation, and focus stimulate the mind and the senses. Think of the stories, bonding, and complex observations that can be prompted by food. “Watch out for fish bones, Uncle Dave was always gagging on fish bones when he was little.” “Do you like that sauce on the meat? So do I!” “Those black beans have the exact same shape as your nostrils.”
I understand that parents need a break and that children at the table can be chaotic, but you’ll never forget when the child fits the black beans into his nose to see if they are indeed, the same shape. Yes, children have bad manners, but they’ll never learn good manners if they don’t participate in the table.
I don’t care about elbows on the table, fork sequence, or finishing every scrap of broccoli. I care about you making me laugh by putting black beans in your nose, and then promptly taking them out (and disposing of them properly) so we don’t veer into gross-out or emergency room visits.
My proposal? Expect the child to participate at the table–eat, pass platters, join the conversation. When they become restive, entertain them with napkin bunnies. When they become unbearable, let them wander off (if you’re eating at home) or get the check.
It gets better, but only if you help it along.