Our household runs on rules. And while I am getting better at relaxing many of my rules, there’s one that I will not budge on: family dinnertime.
Eating dinner together is mandatory in my house. Everyone eats together, at the table, with no TV. Occasionally, someone might be at practice or have a meeting which leaves them excused from dinnertime, but otherwise it’s non-negotiable family time.
Why is dinnertime so important to my husband and me?
Time to Talk: Dinnertime is our family’s time to talk and share. We talk about our day, about news stories, about weekend plans, about…just about anything. Everyone has to contribute something about their day, and we ask questions like, “Who did you sit by at lunch?” and “What did you do for recess?” and “What was your favorite part of the day?” because we’ve found that asking the standard “How was your day?” gets very little response from the kids. And the answers to the questions leads us to the next important part of dinner…
Time to Listen: Just as important, if not more so, as talking, listening is critical to dinnertime. The kids are usually pretty relaxed and it gives us time to learn about our kids, their friends, and what’s happening in their worlds. We learn more over dinner than any other time together.
Bond over Music: While we don’t watch TV during dinner (because little people get CRAZY distracted by any sort of television), we always have music streaming in the background. It’s a good opportunity to expose the kids to different kinds of music, while talking about what they like and don’t like. Some nights it’s “teen favorites” (essentially Top 40, pop stuff), other nights it’s “rock hits” or “alternative” or “oldies.” It’s also an opportunity to share stories that relate to different kinds of music that we remember from our childhoods. Music has an amazing ability to bring you back to certain moments in time, and sharing those with the kids has been awesome.
Practice Manners: Dinner isn’t all fun and games, and we use dinnertime to teach valuable life lessons involving table manners. A sign hangs above our table instructing the basics like no elbows and not eating while speaking. And we also use the opportunity to talk about the importance of trying new foods, not talking with your mouth full, reasonable volume levels at the table, and appropriate conversation topics. Recently, we started using cloth napkins at dinnertime, and it’s been amazing how the kids demonstrate better manners with cloth as opposed to paper napkins.
There is documented scientific evidence that sharing family meals decreases the risk of adolescents engaging in high-risk behaviors. Dinnertime is the best time for our family to be together, grow together, and inadvertently protect each other.
How do you bond with your kids? What questions do you use to get your kids to open up and share? Are family meals a priority for you, too?