Since that time I have made our own version of the game which I have found to be more effective with my teenage and pre-teen boys. What inspired me to work on this again was that one of my boys informed their grandma and aunt that they didn't always have to say "please". (I couldn't believe he said that.) Somehow we have not developed the habit of "please" and "thank you". Instead the children only said it when they were reminded. Of course, I didn't always catch it when they forgot. So in their minds it was optional.
I listed the five manners on a sheet of paper that our family needed to work on the most. They are:
1. Say "please" and "thank you" (without being reminded).
2. Let dad and mom control mealtime conversation. Speak only to ask for something, when spoken to, or when you have a relevant remark to make about the conversation being held. (We have a terrible struggle with children just taking over the conversation and my husband and I sitting there unable to get two words in.)
3. Keep your hands in front of you to eat, and in your lap when you are not eating. (Reaching and playing with items on the table caused numerous spills.)
4. No talking with food in your mouth.
5. Use utensils not fingers (unless appropriate).
These manners are on a sheet of paper in the middle of the table. Between my husband and I, we have a small stack of pennies. Whenever the manners list is violated, a penny is given to that player. At the end of the meal, anyone with a penny gets to help with clean-up which means clearing the table, putting away the food, loading the dishwasher, washing any dishes which can't be put in the dishwasher, and wiping off the counters and the table. To prevent them from giving up on practicing their manners once they receive a penny, they automatically have to help with the next meals clean-up if they have more then one. Every penny is their payment for one mealtime clean up.
Why is this making such a big difference for my boys? Normally, all they've had to do after a meal is scrape their plate and load their dishes in the dishwasher when they are excused. The girls have always had it as their chore to help with the rest of clean-up after the meals. The girls are loving this because if they don't get a penny, they get out of a chore. The boys hate it that they have to work some more. Therefore, all the children have pretty strong motivation to not get a penny.
We have been playing the game for a week. The first day, a couple of the boys received three pennies at one meal. Since then no one has received more then two at a given meal. The children have gotten a big kick out of it when their dad or I get a penny which has happened more then I care to admit. I had to help with clean-up almost every meal the first two days. (I think my husband was being overly zealous.) I was excited yesterday when only one penny was given out all day. Mealtime has been so much more peaceful, and I have such polite children. :0)
My husband and I have worked hard to keep the game light-hearted and fun. A few of the boys had a hard time with that and wanted to be angry about their pennies and argue with us about it. We had to add one more manner to our list. "Don't argue with dad and mom." By the time the meal was over though, they seemed to lighten up again when they realized that there were at least three or four of us having to share the clean-up load. We didn't want this to become more "rules" to have to follow. We didn't want it to be punishment. We just needed a way to teach respect for other people at the dinner table. It is working, and we will continue to play the game until our habits become more fully ingrained.
How are things at your house at mealtime? I'd love to hear from you.
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