During my childhood, family supper was at 5 pm on the dot and we were expected to be
there unless we had a job or were sick. As a kid I didn’t realize there was a reason why Mom and Dad insisted on us sitting down as a family, we just showed up because that’s when Mom had dinner on the table and it was how our family worked.
If you’re thinking, "Well, times have changed" or “We’re just too busy” you’re not alone! Most parents I work with say the same things! As the mom of 3 busy kids, I get it! Eventually I discovered my parents had a reason for family dinners and it was brilliant. When you see what your kids get out of even a few family meals each week, you may choose to make it more of a set routine in your home too. (Don't worry, I included ways to make it super easy, keep reading!) So what are these 3 important things your kids will gain? 1. A Sense of Community When your family sits together for dinner it gives your child a sense of belonging. As you pass around the food and share stories of your day, it strengthens relationships and allows you a window into each other's lives. Kids from families who eat dinner together gain a sense of connection and feel like they matter.
Growing up as one of 7 people at our very small kitchen table, I was surrounded by noisy conversation, teasing, requests to “pass the potatoes” and utter chaos, but it was my "herd" and we knew each of us was an important part of that herd! Stories were told, arguments were had, plans were made and life was crazy...but it was how the Rizzardo family truly connected. 2. A Chance to Practice Communication Skills Getting your kids to the dinner table will give you a chance to hear what your kids are thinking and feeling. An added benefit? You can ask questions through casual conversation and they probably won't feel like you’re interrogating them. This is also a great time for your kids to practice their communication skills. They’ll share stories, ask questions, tell you about their day...this is all great practice for interacting and connecting with others outside the family. You can take this opportunity to model listening skills, teach them about taking turns and not interrupting, and how to ask questions to keep a conversation going. Talk about life skills that are important! All that learning while enjoying a good meal, what could be better?!
3. A Feeling of Security When your family has routines or traditions, it gives your child a sense of security. They know what to expect which can lead to less internal stress and increased confidence. Some studies show teens who come from families that share family dinners and experience a positive atmosphere may have a lower risk factor for binge drinking, drug usage and other risky behaviors. While a direct causal relationship may not be clear, it does appear to make a difference. How can you make this happen with your crazy family schedule? We’re all super busy balancing work, home life, kids’ sports schedules and after school activities so here’s a few tips to help: 1. Make it easy Pinterest perfect is not the goal! We’re all busy, so let the crockpot do the cooking, pick up a pzza, or have something light and easy on the busy days. The goal is to get everyone around the table to share a meal, not a 5 course fancy dinner! Another important note: Don’t feel stressed if you can only gather everyone a few times each week. Even quick meals count as long as you take some time to talk together! On that note...it doesn’t even have to be dinner you share! You could make it a family gathering for pancakes and eggs on a Sunday morning instead. Time spent together is all that matters, and it really does matter! 2. Make it fun Keep things light and fun so the kids will look forward to it. This could be a time for family planning for weekend activities, brainstorming in a collective effort to solve a problem (i.e., morning routines), and most importantly asking about the highs and lows of each person’s day. Remember, connecting is the critical point! 3. Make it a family project Dinner should not just be one more thing you dread doing every day. Little ones can help wash veggies and measure things. As your kids get older you can begin teaching them basic cooking skills so they can help with bigger meal prep chores. This is also a great time to have some relaxed conversations. Clean up should also be a family effort. Your younger ones can help clear a table or play in soapy bubbles as they wash plastic bowls or cups. Older kids can be put in charge of loading and emptying a dishwasher. Everyone should be pitching in, it’s part of being a family. One last point for those of you who are blended families... some of you have stepchildren who may be in your home part time. I recommend they be expected to help with dinner chores and clean up as well. If you allow them to come in, eat and leave without helping, it forms a sense of entitlement which can lead to bigger problems later. “If you’re eating, you’re helping," should be part of the family rules for everyone! Most importantly, use meal times to build family relationships and memories. The kids will be out the door before you know it, so grab these moments when you can!
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