Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Winner, Winner, Family Dinner: Making the Most of Your Time at the Table

        What if YOU could lower the rates of substance abuse, depression, and teen pregnancy? What if you could do that in just 30 minutes a day?  Well, you can and you don’t even need to leave your house.  You can do this by eating dinner with your family! Family dinner is a sure bet.  If you googled family dinner, you’d see many articles written by experts explaining the benefits of a family gathering together around the table.  The facts are undeniable—children who eat dinner with their families regularly are less likely to abuse drugs, experience depression, as well many other benefits such as:

  • Increased communication skills
  • Better academic performance
  • Improved nutrition and overall physical and mental health
  • Decreased risk for eating disorders and teen pregnancy

     Children are not the only ones who benefit. Parents who sit down to dinner with their kids:
  • Experience stress relief (You may have laughed out loud here. I know it is hard to believe.)
  • Save  money
  • Pass along values and lessons from one generation to the next
  • Have daily communication with their children
  •  Create a sense of family unity

     To sum up, eating dinner as a family is important! I have always known that and I am sure many of you have known that as well. Still, I am not sure if the time my family spends at the table is that beneficial. Sometimes we eat dinner and watch TV together.  Sometimes we sit at the table, eat as quickly as possible in silence, and try to get back to whatever we were doing before dinner so rudely interrupted.  Sometimes we do talk but we rarely get past the “how was your day?” routine.  Honestly, dinner isn’t always a wonderful experience.  It can even be stressful.  I am really hoping that I am not the only one out there who experiences this. 
     My children are young. They spend most of their time with me but I know soon, they will be teenagers; then, the time I have with them will be at a premium.  I need to learn to make the moments I have with them count. That is why I came up with this idea for a recurring blog post.  What if I started making more of the time we had at dinner?  We have to eat dinner everyday and we should get more than simple nutrition from it.  Each week I am going to plan games, activities, and conversation starters to help make dinner more meaningful and I thought I’d share my ideas with you.  Some of the topics I plan to cover are table manners, getting to know each other better, ancestors, basic astronomy, and as well as a wide variety of other topics.
     If you would like to experience all the benefits of family dinner, here is what you need to do:
  1.  Make a family dinner goal.  It might not be possible for your family to eat dinner together everyday.  Some people may only see their children 3 or 4 days a week, some people may have jobs that keep them away from home, or teenagers may have extra-curricular activities.  Create a goal that will work for your family.  My husband is not home for dinner 3 or 4 days a week (and has an unpredictable schedule) so this is my goal:  I will eat dinner with my children at the table 6 days a week and with my husband as often as I can.  Your goal could be 3 days a week or 5 days a week or 7 days a week. You decide.
  2. Plan interesting topics to talk about during dinner.  If you and your children are interested in certain topics, think of questions and ideas about those topics to share.  Maybe think of some fun activities that you could do while eating a meal together (especially if you have family members who aren’t into talking).  Feel free to ask your kids for help too!  If you are stumped on this, that is where I come in.  I will be posting new ideas so please come back by and check in.  
  3.  Let go!  Don’t allow this to be another stressful thing added to your list of things you believe perfect parents do. Remember, you can do something perfect parents cannot—you exist.   So high five for being better than a perfect parent! While a little preparation might be helpful, hours of preparation for dinnertime fun is not required.  Most of all, don’t take over the dinner table.  Don’t drill your kids on hard facts if you bring up an educational topic.  Don’t interrupt a good conversation to get everyone back to the conversation you had planned. Your goal is to facilitate communication, not control it.   Go with the flow and relax.
  4. Don’t give up! –even if you eat dinner together for a week and you experienced this:
a.       7 spilled glasses of water
b.      A screaming crying breakdown (by your kids or you).
c.       3 broken dishes
d.      Loud burping
e.      A toddler who cries uncontrollably because she fed all her food to the dog and she’s hungry
f.        18 rounds of “no I am not” vs “yes you are” chanted in harmony by your children
g.       A migraine

Hopefully that didn’t all happen to you (Okay, maybe it did).  Dinnertime can make a parent feel really frazzled.  If it is not pleasant for you, it probably wasn’t too fun for your kids either. Don’t give up.  In time, things will get better and you will feel rested and refreshed after a meal instead of frazzled.  Now is the time to teach your children what dinnertime is really like—it is meaningful, it is inspirational, and it is fun.  Soon you will find that you children will sit down quietly  less loudly and eager to participate in the night’s fun.   Remember that stress relief benefit I mentioned earlier…as you learn to communicate and play and laugh at the dinner table, it will lower your blood pressure and release positive endorphins.  Dinner done right will actually help you release the stress you have been collecting all day!
Are you ready to devote 30 minutes of your day to improve the lives of yourself and your children?  I know I am.  Stay tuned for the next post!
Do you do anything special to make your family dinners fun and interesting?  If so, feel free to leave a comment and share your ideas.

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