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Over the years, the tradition of sitting down to eat dinner as a family has slowly eroded away as American societal norms become more and more work-centric and much less family-centric. Members of the family are pulled into all sorts of different directions on an average day, with both parents working out of the home and children involved in numerous after-school activities, leaving little time to prepare a meal, let alone sit down and enjoy it all together. But, multiple studies have shown that family dinners have a great effect on a child’s overall growth, including happier, healthier children who are more likely to succeed academically and less likely to show poor behavior. While sitting down to eat together is a great start, it’s the communication that takes place and the relationship bonds that are built that have the ultimate effect on a child’s well-being. So, just how exactly do we get our kids talking?
A study examined by the New York Times in 2012 showed that “the effects of family dinners on children depend on the extent to which parents use the time to engage with their children and learn about their day-to-day lives.” If your children are still young, getting them to talk at the dinner table likely isn’t a difficult task, however inventive their conversations may be. But, for adolescents and the teenage years, getting a child to open up to you might just be like that of prying teeth. If that’s the case, a family dinner tradition might just be the way to open dialogue amongst your children and partner without making it seemingly intrusive. We’ve searched, scoured… and even did a little movie watching… to find six family dinner table traditions to get you and your kids talking, laughing, dreaming, and role playing!
Highs and Lows
Made famous in the classic 1998 movie Stepmom, Highs and Lows is a family favorite dinner tradition in which family members each take a turn highlighting the best and worst part of their day. Offering a moment of reflection for each member of the family, the tradition also entices conversation about feelings, actions, and personal experiences from both an adult and child perspective. Children will look forward to sharing parts of their day while also comparing and contrasting those moments with others.
Who said it?
A sure way to build a light of positivity at the dinner table, and ward off sibling rivalry, this game asks that each person of the family reflect positively on one another. Start by writing down one kind thing about each person at the table on individual pieces of paper, then pass them to each recipient at the same time. Finally, take turns having each person read their affirmations aloud. As they read each affirmation, they must try to correctly determine who said it.
Today in History
As a means to discuss important events that shaped our world, nation, community, or family, select an event that happened on that particular day in history to discuss as you dine. If help is needed broadening your horizons, there are books and calendars that can be purchased, such as the 2016 History Channel This Day in History boxed calendar, that highlight historical events of each day. This tradition is a fun way to not only educate the family, but also talk about how such events effect the world today. Some events may even be personal to your very own family.
Questions in a Jar
A commonly known tradition, this “game” is a fun way to delve deep into the various personalities at the family dinner table. By including a number of open-ended questions, such as “If you could change places with your parents for one day, what would you do differently?” or “Which book character closely resembles you and why?”, everyone gets to know a little bit more about each other than normal conversation would bring about. Make the tradition come to life by having the children help searching for questions (there are many on Pinterest), print out the questions, and cut them up into single questions. Select a jar of any kind (cookie jar, old canister, mason jar, or old coffee can), and decorate it or label it. As dinner commences, have one person select a question from the jar for everyone to answer. If crafting isn’t your thing, the Melissa and Doug Family Dinner Box of Questions, featured above, is an affordable way to jump start the tradition!
Resources for great dinner conversation questions:
A fun way to use your imagination, the Dinner Guest game requests that each person select any one person that they would like to invite for dinner that night – of course, only in imaginary terms. Dinner guests may include historical figures, celebrities, relatives, or anyone of importance. Then, go around the dinner table and ask each person to state who they picked and explain why. You are sure to find out a great deal of what your children know about history, what is important to them, and just how much they know about pop culture! You will be surprised who your kids bring to the table!
Family Dinner Themes
Family Dinner Themes are usually once a week dinner traditions in which the family selects a theme for that night’s dinner meal and any fun family events afterwards, such as game night or movie night. Themes can include a beach night with a fresh catch for dinner and cute little umbrellas in your drink, a 1950’s shake shack with hamburgers and milk shakes for dessert (don’t forget to turn up the music as well!), or a royal five course meal fit for a king (with goblets of juice and jeweled crowns for attire, of course). Include your kids in creating the theme and helping with “props”. Have fun searching the internet for trends of the past, exciting new recipes, and ways to really make the night full of character. After the dinner is over, extend theme night into a game or movie that portrays that same theme. For teens, Grease might be the perfect movie to pair with a 1950’s theme dinner!
Whether you choose to implement a family dinner tradition, or simply make sitting down as a family a dinner tradition, you are actively increasing the chances that your child will have better self-esteem, a higher vocabulary, a better sense of security and resiliency, a deeper familial bond, and a healthier diet, among many other benefits. If you can choose one part of your day to de-stress, unwind, and recharge… make it a date with the family each night.