27 answers

Elbows on the Table!

Please can anyone tell me where this came from that no elbows are allowed on the table? This is an ongoing situation in my home for the past 10 years that the
boys are told to get their elbows off the table.

Who started this? Why? What does it matter?
I feel that it is always good to have table manners, no doubt about that.

But when it comes to tears at the table, no talking because now the boys
are in a sour mood. It isn't that they are trying to dis-behave; we get to
having a good conversation and their Dad has is eyes on there arms instead
of listening to what they have to say for "what I did today".
Has one son pointed out to his father "your's is on the table too sometimes!"
Dad say's to remind him as well:)
But meals are not fun anymore. I believe that this is the only time you actually
get to sit down with each other and talk and have I hope a good family talk.
My boys are great boys and they can be bad "burbing" and ect boys as well.

So my question is where did this all start? I know our parents, their parents and ect in "camp" "get your elbows off the table "" "" and ect!


What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

I thank you all for your thoughts and they are all great.
Manners are very important. It's the eye watching that stresses the boys out.
They know to keep their elbows off the table.
Teens these days just get so upset with you when you remind them of their manners
and I know that will never stop. I continue to remind them that I am the mother
and they will always be my children!
I just wanted the History. I grew up with parents kids didn't talk at the table
only the parents or grandparents did unless you were addressed in the conversation.
I enjoy talking to my boys and hearing them laugh, complain about their day and get
to know them all over again has they are "growing up".
Thanks again the the response.
Grandma Sherry I hold your response with much respect, please don't think I don't care about the manners:)
Everyone have a great New Year.

More Answers

Hello! I just HAD to respond to this. In a previous issue of Wonder Time this exact question has been answered. I can't remember which issue but it's something like October or November of 07.
A long time ago boards and planks or wood slabs were placed on objects to make a "table". They were not attached to whatever was holding them in place (tree stumps, etc) so they asked people sitting at the table not to put their elbows on it in case it would tip it. Nowadays, tables are attached to legs to there is no more fear of tipping the top. So your boys should go ahead and put their elbows on the table. I never thought there was anything wrong with putting elbows on tables to begin with. If your hubby needs sound proof of the above mentioned, refer to Wonder Time Maagazine. Which is an EXCELLENT magazine in case you have not read it yet.

All the best! A.

1 mom found this helpful

Who knows! It's important to teach table manners, and kids need to be reminded - OFTEN. However, it has to be done in a kindly manner, not in a mean or angry way. Being mean in reminding is even ruder than elbows on the table. As I told my son, "if you have manners, you can keep company with kings". The MOST important thing is to have communication and love at the dinner table. Manners are second. However, both are doable.

1 mom found this helpful

In 1530 a Frenchman wrote a book about eating at the tabled and stated one should keep your elbows at your sides and this evolveded into the elbows off the table thing. I looked this up using History of table manners. We often had this problem until I talked to my husband about it. I also feel manners are very important but there has to be a line drawn about how far you are willing to take this. My kids are eight and elevend and still need gengle reminding as does my husband. I asked hubby how important this was, is talking to the kids more importand or winning this argument. As your kids get older they will get better. Peace was more important for us and the kids stilled learned. One funny thing is when our son reminded my husband about his elbows I thought he was going to blow, I just smiles, thanked our son and then smiles at my husband. He know is better about gently reminding and not arguing about something that just upsets us all. Hope this helps. You can also look up other history on table manner websites with you kids and see how things have changes. Kids used to have to stand behind the adults and eat what was given them, when they were allowed to eat at the table, they could not talk, figet or look at the others eating. So maybe your boys will find this interesting and be greatful all they have to do is keep there elbows off the table!

1 mom found this helpful


When I was a young girl, my grandmother made a game of table etiquette. Part of the game was to be polite and constructive while catching each other in poor etiquette. The most often caught was elbows on the table and talking with a mouth full of food. We also discussed why such things were expected of us. Traditions in etiquette go back centuries and are primarily ways to make a meal more enjoyable and cultured. In close settings, elbows on the table take up extra room and can result in something getting spilled or broken. The truth is that watching a table of diners using proper etiquette is a pleasure. Otherwise, it sometimes looks like a bunch of barn animals at a trough. After the meal is finished and people are just setting around talking formal etiquette is less necessary.

Everything I learned about manners and etiquette I learned from my grandmother and I still said yes ma’am and no ma’am to her when I was in my 50’s. She is my idol although she died from Alzheimer’s three years ago.

I have 5 adult children, 16 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. Some of my grandchildren are disgusting with their eating habits but they improve considerably at a family dinner in my house.

Grandma S.

1 mom found this helpful

Hello M. -

I have three sons ages 14, almost 8, and 5 and this has, as you might be able to guess, been an issue we have considerred and dealt with in our nearly-all-male home as well.

What we ended up doing is allowing family-only dinners at home to be "barbarian dinners' complete with elbows on the table, chunks being torn off of the bread, and, honestly, the occasional fart or belch being indulged in and chuckled at.

I know, sounds gross, BUT the trade-off that they agreed to was this: all meals in restaurants and with guests must proceed with the utmost decorum and excellent manners. IF they slip into barbarism in the restaurant or at a friend's house then the next two weeks at home is practice time, so that they can re-learn the proper dinner-out manners.

On two occasions we have had to impose the two-week re-training (no elbows on table, napkin in lap, mouth-closed when chewing, smaller bites, no talking with food in the mouth, asking to be excused when finished, taking own dishes to the sink, and offering to help with clean-up after all are finished), but otherwise our boys are exceptionally well-behaved when eating with others and we are nearly always told by new acquaintances how wonderful our boys are and how exceptional their manners and consideration for others is.

Yes, for me, as a woman, it was not my idea of an ideal meal, but allowing my boys to be boys in all it's glory (farts and all!) has deepened my relationship with all of them and has visibly raised their self-esteem. It has allowed them to stop trying to foist their masculinity on me and to instead express the extremes on occasion only. But with their expressing the extremes of their masculinity they all have also been able to embrace ideals we consider feminine (creativity, art with textiles, knitting, quilting - I am not kidding!). They, and I have become more balanced and happy in genereal and it all started with me agreeing not to banish them from the table for farts, belches, or elbows.

So, my advice, immerse in the barbarian meals at home, complete with goblets or tankards for ales (AKA lemon water, juice or sparkling cider on holidays) on the condition that meals with others be a demonstration of exemplary manners.

It's FUN!

Best wishes -

1 mom found this helpful

Queen Victoria used to put her elbows on the table. If it's good enough for Queenie it's good enough for me. Probably all started when poor folks with big families were so crowded around the table there was no room for elbows. Time we grew up and realize what's important is that love, laughter and open communication = peaceful "success" in all our endeavours throughout life. The Little Ones learn a LOT at the dinner table. Are yours learning the way you would like them to live their entire lives? You are the role models...

1 mom found this helpful

You really made me think on this one because I kind of have the same problem. I did some Googling and it seems that there are a few reasons why you should not have your elbows on the table. For example: It may cause the table to tip, dirty the tablecloth or inferfere with the person sitting next to you.
Most of the articles I read said that it is acceptable to have your elbows on the table beetween courses and after table have been cleared to make it easier to join in conversation.
Hope this helped you, I know it did me.

I believe the no elbows on the table rule came from a long time ago when there was the danger of tipping over the table if too much uneven pressure was applied in one area. Also, if there are lots (or just a few) serving dishes on the table one is more likely to knock them over or get one's clothing in them if elbows are leaning on the table.

My husband has told me that when he was a kid and he or one of his 2 brothers put elbows on the table this rhyme was said: "Johnny, Johnny strong and able take your elbows off the table. This is not a horse's stable, but a decent dining table." I remember from reading Cheaper By the Dozen that if one family member caught another with elbows on the table the offending person would get his elbow "thumped" on the table. It then became a game to try to catch each other.

A game like that might make it fun to learn, especially if your husband is one of the offenders sometimes. Also, I think if you explain the reasons why it is not done (above and that if one is sloppy in manners at home one will inevitably forget in more important situations and frankly people do judge others by table manners. There have been many articles about colleges offering crash courses on manners to students who don't know how to act and will likely have a very hard time getting employment as a result.) it should not be too disruptive to "remind" offenders. I'm sure you and your husband multi-task all the time and could keep an eye out while having a pleasant conversation at the table.

Good luck!

Elbows on the table while your are eating means that your are slouching over your plate. (It is perfectly acceptable for etiquette purposes to have your elbows on the table when you are NOT eating.) Otherwise, I guess it almost looks like you are "protecting" your plate ala animal kingdom . . . or a house full of siblings. (My husband has five sisters and one brother - elbows on the table on either side of the plate was the best way to keep from losing food!) But it's not attractive and it's a good idea to get children into the habit of displaying polite table manners.

Here's a good link for questions about etiquette for children: http://www.drdaveanddee.com/elbows.html

I believe it was an attempt at good posture. It's hard to slouch without putting your elbows on the table.

I don't know exactly where the idea came from, but it is generally acceted practice to keep elbows off the table (and I have been taught that resting the forearm on the table is acceptable).
But your point is really about wanting to make dinner time fun again, and if you also want to teach good manners, make it into a game. I got this idea from a Family Fun article: one night a week the stakes run high, and anyone caught breaking a manners rule has to get up and perform a song or recite a poem for compensation (or the article also suggested drinking "glug" but I do not take it that far). This has made learning manners a lot more fun, my daughter enjoys both getting caught and catching someone else!
I like the game, because it reinforces the whole point of using manners, which is to prepare us for being "presentable" in public.

I know that in Germany it is considered rude not to have your arms up at the table (they have to be visible) So I think it is all just a cultural thing.
I also think that if this is your worst problem at dinner you are blessed! My husband will never eat what I make! You must have a wonderful family!
I think it is great that they are now aware of the correct behavior so that they can behave nicely in public and as they grow older, good job mom!

OMG!!! I totally have the same issue at my house! My poor daughter is SCRUTINIZED to death by her father and the whole time Im trying to put light on the situation and change the subject. She is only 8, and the whole meal she is scared to do something wrong. It ruins the meal time! I dont know what the whole NO ELBOWS ON THE TABLE means, some old english "bs" probably. Dont you hate it when our men have the worst manners at the table, but nit pick our poor kids? Drives me nuts!! Im gonna read your advice columns to figure it out as well. Good luck sister..

M - I have no idea where it came from but, I'm guessing some sort of prim and proper, back in the day, rule... like when they used to send girls to manners school. Now, if we were having tea with the Queen on a regular basis, I'd be concerned. While I do think good manners are important, i.e. asking for things to be passed to you, no intentional obnoxious burping, not talking and chewing... I do think that the way we sit now is different and sometimes it's more comfortable to lean in a little. There is a difference between "laying" on the table and just trying to reach your food comfortably or resting your arms during conversation. I say... whatever works for YOUR family. I agree is is NOT worth an argument... especially during what should be such positive family time.

This started at least a hundred years ago. Emily Post and something VanBuren have written it down in their etiquette books which were "the bible" in high society. I think the rule has gone out of style just as a whole bunch of others have. If keeping the elbows off the table is not important to you don't enforce it.

When I was young, 40 years ago, I was very aware to keep my elbows off the table. Sometimes I have a flash of memory when I put my elbows on the table now. When I'm eating out with other people, especially people in my age range, I watch, sometimes, to see what the others do before I put my elbows on the table. My friends don't follow that rule and neither do I unless I'm wanting to impress someone who still follows it.

Tomorrow I'll google etiquette and see if "they" are still telling us to "keep your elbows off the table."

I have absolutly no idea where and or why that "rule" came around, it seems to be a silly one, that I have never understood, yet I have always wondered the samething. Sorry I dont have the answer for your question, however if you do find out,please let me know.Now that you have my curiosity on this matter, and I will do the same if I find out.
Thanks so much and the best of luck to you and yours,
P. D

All I know is that it was part of good manners. You could find an dining etiquette book or google it to maybe see who came up with it.

you sound like a good mother and i think that if u have a problem with elbows on the table then make your kids run around the house for every time they do that.

The great houses and castles of England during the middle ages did not have dining tables in the great halls, so tables were made from trestles and covered with a cloth. The diners sat along one side only; if they put their elbows on the table and leaned too heavily, the table could collapse.

it doesn't sound worth fighting over. aren't you supposed to be able to relax at home a little? my parents didn't really teach table etiquette to us tho i wish they had. however i was very comfortable in my home. i think it's like anything. they have to learn where certain things are acceptable and where they are not. teach them the etiquette so they know what to do when they're outside the home. since they are behaving well otherwise, why cause all the tension?

Well, I can't honestly tell you about where it all came from, but just wanted to share a little with you, I grew up in a home with many, many, many rules and it was a good home, no question about that, but in making sure that all rules were consistantly followed, I feel like I lost out on a lot of fellowship time with my parents....especially as a teenager. I now have three teenagers, and I have tried my best to provide principles to follow, and the main thing in our family is that we have time together, that everyone feels that it's an oasis to come home, to let down your hair, to cry, to share, to laugh about the day's events, at the dinner table, in the evening, and if a few elbows end up on the table while they are sharing something wonderful they experienced that day?? Oh well. The memories we will have is how we connected and loved and laughed as a family, with some spilled milk, elbows, or what have you, but the overall was good manners, and my children will look back on the family life they had as a positive, up-lifting experience, rather than one that all they remember is the rules that were constantly enforced. We obviously need rules and boundaries, which we have, but never forget that this is there place of safety and comfort and happiness!!

I think this is a holdover from the BAD old days when there were quite rigid ideas about behavior ... based on "appearances" and not logic or common sense. We CAN make our own set of rules based not on: "because I SAID SO"... BUT using the test of: what ACTUAL harm is the result? Before starting this process, it helps to have the discussion of what makes us feel GOOD when we are sharing a meal (family time) together. I can best illustrate this by telling about the banker who worked in both Seattle washington and towns in Texas. When in Texas, he wore a string tie ... before he got off the plane in Seattle, he changed to a regular tie. There was a humorous article written years ago about ties, with the comment that ties cut off blood flow to the brain, which was a major factor in the continuing belief that ties were an absolute requirement for a "proper business man"

By shifting the emphasis from "how it looks" (with the sidebar of "what REAL HARM does it do?) to what is enjoyable for the family, we can make sensible choices that enhance the good feelings we have as a family. Good luck!

I agree completely with Dionne D's excellent reply below. Let family times be relaxed and fun; just be sure your children know how polite meals in mixed company are different. They will need (and probably want) to know gentlemanly etiquette when they are on a date or are having dinner with a future boss. But that artificial stiffness doesn't have to rule your table at home.

You and your husband would probably do well to have a discussion (maybe several!) in private – don't argue about this in front of your boys. Have you asked him what he hopes to accomplish? The old rules of etiquette are changing and becoming less stringent, but sensible manner will always be important. Elbows on the table seem a small matter of body language. They can symbolize that people are at ease with each other. I suppose legalists could argue that they symbolize poor breeding or lack of respect for other guests, but that would have to be a pretty formal situation.

Your husband could be running on old tapes from his childhood, or he may feel legitimately worried that your kids won't know how to conduct themselves in public. If the bunch of you can convince him your boys are quite capable of being civilized, maybe he'll be able to relax.

I agree than dinnertime at home is best when it's happy, and kids who have conversations with parents over relaxed meals tend to do better academically and socially. Spending too much attention on enforcing rules doesn't help communication.

Whatever you work out, it will work best if it takes everyone's needs into consideration: yours, your husband's, and your sons'.

As far back as I can remember it was important just cause it is good ethic. it is part of good manners. Maybe if the good times are only at the table try doing the evening at least 1 or 2 times a week. and make it happen. Or you can do what my parents did at the start of the meal before anyone would talk mom always reminded us of our manners and elbows. From a family of 9

I honestly have no idea, but you know what if my kids can keep thier feet off the table its a good day. I am not so worried about thier elbows. Its not really worth the fight.

Maybe it originated when a top of a table wasn't properly bolted down and having elbows on the table would throw the table off balance and boom, all the food is on the floor. Or maybe it was when hygene isn't what it is today and the elbows didn't get a good washing.
Bottom line, like anything else, you and your husband have to question whether it is somebody elses values you are fighting for or your own.

D., mother of two young adult men that grew up with rules and enjoyed thier meals as long as their elbows weren't in each other's ears.


My parents used to tell us that to but it didn't stick. As far as I'm comcerned it doesn't matter. I have two boys and sure their table manners leave something to be desired, so we corrected the things that matter the most first. For example, we'll regulate the conversation so that it is table worthy and not in the gutter so to speak. Also things like proper use of forks and spoons. I figure I'll fight the battles I know I can win now, and the rest will come as it comes. With this approach we have been able to keep dinner a positive family experience. I have also found with boys you just have to lighten up on certian things sometimes.

Hope this helps.

N. M

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