Q. Is there a polite way to handle the problem of well-mannered parents who do not insist that their children use proper manners also? I refer specifically to table manners as an example, because it ruins my dinner. Children (3 and over) who grip the utensils in a "fist," "shovel" in the food like starved truck drivers. Also the talking and/or chewing with a full and open mouth; the placing of gigantic portions on the fork, then biting off hunks; the refusal to use napkins on messy fingers and faces; picking up non-finger foods in their fingers.

When these people are your guests, is there anything you can say to them about it? What if they're relatives?

A. The only thing you can do while you are actually at the table, is to make a mental note for the future to invite your friends only after their children's bedtime. You cannot correct your guests, even if they are disgusting children, and that also means that you cannot correct your friends on their child-rearing techniques.

Far be it from Miss Manners to sympathize with people who shovel, chew and bite in the manner you describe, but 3 is rather a low cutoff at which to expect finished table manners. Between 3 and 6 may, in fact, be considered prime training time for table manners, when the parents of such people should be spending a great portion of their family dinner hours doing the training.

They may elect not to conduct this training when others are present. They could figure, correctly, that doing so would add embarrassment to the other difficulties of the process, and also that a steady stream of instructions might not provide you an amusing evening.

Of course, it is possible that no such training is taking place, in which case you may want to avoid these children all their lives. But if they are relatives, or children of very close friends, you may supply the lack yourself if you do it tactfully.

This means inviting the children without their parents, in some way that will make them feel privileged and grown up, and then explaining to them, in a kindly way, that the custom at your house is to chew with the mouth closed, and so on. (You must be careful not to criticize their parents, and to say "Well, dear, they may do things differently, but this is the way I prefer it to be done at my house.") If the occasion is pleasant enough, they will try to live up to your standards, and you will have done humanity a great service.