Family Dinner: 5 Tips to make the most of this important time (and Tom Selleck)

Recently, I had a good conversation with my mom regarding a very popular show: Blue Bloods.  I don’t watch the show but I know it has Tom Selleck in it.  My mom said the reason why she liked the show so much wasn’t only because of Tom (sure mom…I know he is hot) but was because the show always ended with everyone joining together for a family dinner.

When I think of a family dinner, I don’t think of any show, but rather the Norman Rockwell thanksgiving feast painting (Freedom from want).  Everyone in the family is sitting around anxiously as the turkey arrives at the table.  I love that iconic painting because it reminds of how special and important family dinners truly are.

Looking back at my childhood, most nights my family had dinner together.  It was a time where play was over (or at least paused) and we could now focus on investing in each other.  Since I was the youngest, I did the most listening.  I would listen to my dad, my mom, and my brother bring the family up to speed on how their day went. I learned many things that I did not even think about during that time.  Things like manners, listening, good posture, problem solving and storytelling.  The family dinner at our house was a safe place for all to participate in the conversation.

Research and studies also backs up how important family dinners are for the development of children.  Per The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University children who have family dinner are:

  • Less likely they are to use drugs, drink, and smoke
  • More likely to get better grades in school
  • Less likely to have mental issues (anxiety, depression)
  • More likely to eat better foods and have better nutrition
  • More likely to have stronger relationships with their parents

My wife and I make it a point to have family dinners as much as possible.  We have experimented with how we go about it but one thing remains constant, we routinely have them.

If you are looking to make the most out of this special time or to begin a new family routine, here are some tips that have helped our family out:

  1. Have the children help with setting up or cleaning up of the table.  This instills that we all have a responsibility to the family and promotes teamwork.
  2. Allow children to assist with the preparation (cooking) of the meal (I love this one for all of the life skills that will be learned).
  3. Have the children wash and put away dishes.
  4. No smart phones present at the table.  The same goes with a television on in the background. Phones and television promote passive behavior. The goal of family dinner is to participate and interact in a bonding experience.
  5. Take turns asking about each other’s day.  This give everyone a chance to talk, vent, share stories while it gives everyone else a chance to listen (another great one as we can model a winning behavior).

Every family dynamic is different.  What I enjoyed about the data and research was that it didn’t really matter how you had your family dinner. What mattered most was that it was happening on a consistent basis. With this in mind, experiment and have fun. Different things will work for different homes. In a world of over scheduling, family dinner is the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together and demonstrate that family does come first!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes via Unsplash

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