Ten Ideas to Make the Most of Family Dinners
Family dinners are so important. Yet in today’s busy families, family members are sitting down to eat dinner together less and less often. Studies have demonstrated a correlation between family dinners and mental and physical health in children, improved social skills, improved grades, and the avoidance of engaging in teen risky behavior, including substance use. Here are some suggestions to make the most out of family dinner time.
- Beforehand, express the expectation that family members are to come when dinner is served. It is helpful if the meal maker provides a ten minute alert, and then a five minute alert, to give family members ample time to finish up what they are doing, use the bathroom, wash hands, and get a drink. Having everyone come to the table when called sets the tone for a positive experience.
- Express gratitude. This can be in the form of a prayer before eating, and/or going around the table and expressing one thing for which each family member is grateful.
- Keep electronics off of the table. In addition, wherever they are, turn them to silent mode. Nothing can zap your tween/teen’s attention than hearing the notification that a text or message came through. And nothing makes children feel less important than work when a parent checks work emails during dinner time. It can all wait, or at least 99% of the time it can wait!
- Discourage negative comments about the food. If someone does not like what is being served, help children learn that saying so makes the person who prepared the food feel unappreciated. If children really do not like what is being served, encourage children to express their thoughts about the meal in less critical ways, such as “It is not my favorite.”
- Once a week, or when your family’s schedule allows, involve children in the process of making dinner. Children of all ages can assist in preparing dinner in one way or another. This serves several functions. It helps children learn how to make a meal, it fosters the parent-child bond, it helps children to become responsible, and it helps generate a sense of pride in playing a role in creating the meal.
- Avoid talking about topics that may be too personal or sensitive for one child. For example, if one child is not doing well in a particular subject, this is not the time to bring it up in front of siblings. Save these for private conversations.
- Focus on positive behaviors rather than negative when it comes to manners. Focusing on manners and criticizing can take the joy and fun out of family dinners. Instead, use yourself as a role model, talk about what YOU are doing that is polite (napkin on lap, not chewing with mouth open, how holding utensils), and provide praise to your children when you see it.
- Encourage everyone to share one positive aspect of his or her day. This provides children with the opportunity to have the spotlight, be creative in starting a conversation, and practice active listening. If your child has difficulty coming up with something, you could start with a question, such as “What new and interesting fact did you learn?” or “Who made you laugh or smile today?”
- Family time is what is important, and it does not always have to be dinner. There will be times that a parent is not home from work yet or has a community meeting to attend, or a child is at an activity or sport. If the family is not able to be together for dinner, the family could have dessert or a light snack together, or hot/warm beverage together before bedtime.
- Use a fun product. Here are a few:
- Family Dinner Games and Activities: http://www.amazon.com/Family-Time-Fun-Dinner-Activities/dp/B000P0YOQ6Chat Pack for Kids: http://www.amazon.com/Chat-Pack-For-Kids-Questions/dp/0975580159/ref=pd_sim_21_6?ie=UTF8&dpID=51IR2iFU6RL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=14J7GZHE95Q4D07CS8EQ
- Family Dinner Box of Questions: http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Family-Dinner-Questions/dp/B004XAF9G8/ref=pd_sim_21_1?ie=UTF8&dpID=51XBEtQUyVL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=14J7GZHE95Q4D07CS8EQ
- Chat Pack for Kids: http://www.amazon.com/Chat-Pack-For-Kids-Questions/dp/0975580159/ref=pd_sim_21_6?ie=UTF8&dpID=51IR2iFU6RL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=18WYQQQXYBBYJCV74HWA
The positive impact of family dinner may not be immediately observable, but your time and effort will pay off. Not only will you have the positive experience of spending family time together, but research demonstrates that children will have the benefit in the years to come. With family dinners come the benefits of: 1) emotionally strong and improved mental health in children and teens, 2) reduced incidence of teen drug and alcohol use, 3) improved family relationships, and 4) recognizing and addressing when cyberbullying is occurring.