by Carleton Kendrick
Getting together for dinner. Family dinners? Who’s got the time? Only one-third of U.S. families at dinner together most nights. The time-honored, slow-paced family dinner of past generations now looks more like a frantic pit stop, where family members simply refuel before beginning their evening activities. But stop! Sitting down at the table together is still one of the best ways for families to grow and stay connected.
Making family dinners a priority is not easy, but the long-term benefits are well worth the effort. The family dinner offers a natural forum that fosters togetherness. It can afford all family members a chance to share their lives and to receive encouragement and support. Regular family meals also provide children with a much-needed safe haven of stability in a world that is often confusing and frightening.
Here are nine tips to help you get the most out of your family dinner:
1. Don’t feel guilty if family dinners are not a daily event. Start with what’s possible at the moment, naturally transitioning toward eating together several times per week.
2. Family discussions need not begin and end while seated at the dinner table. Family members, including even young children, may begin communicating while helping to prepare the meal and setting the table. Mealtime conversations may continue as the family clears the table and does the dishes.
3. The family dinner should be a relaxing, pleasurable occasion. Unpleasant topics, negative criticism, and judgment are not appropriate dinner fare.
4. Always involve your kids in the dinner discourse. Their participation will not only make them feel more valued but it will also expose them to new language and ideas. The art of conversation and learning how to take turns speaking are important social skills for school, home, and everyday life.
5. Specific questions to children (“How many nibbles did you get on your line when you and Dad went fishing Saturday?”) are more likely to trigger conversation than general questions. (“How was your day today?”)
6. Laughter is the best dinnertime music.
7. Family dinners don’t always have to be evening events. They also can be weekday or weekend breakfasts or lunches. What’s most important is communicating the importance and desirability of these family meals.
8. Change the family dinner location sometimes. How about an afternoon picnic, dinner under the stars, or Saturday breakfast in your child’s room?
9. Turn off the TV and radio. Unplug the phone or put on the answering machine. Don’t let interruptions disrupt this special time.
Having more family dinners initially may be met with some resistance, especially if they are not a regular part of your household schedule. In time, however, the guaranteed pleasure and security they provide will have everyone looking forward to coming to the table.