From saying grace to “May I be excused,” how long is a typical family dinner in your home? Or is it rare for your family to sit down for dinner at all?
You may have heard some of the benefits kids get from family dinners—including better grades, healthier body weight, reduced chance of alcohol, drug and cigarette use, stronger relationships with you, the parent, and better overall mental health.
There’s probably nothing magical about the dinnertime itself. I feel confident that the research about mealtimes reveals a larger commitment by those parents. They are purposeful about investing time in their children, eating meals together is one of many ways they do that, and they are seeing some great benefits because of their overall approach of being highly involved in their kids’ lives.
There’s an annual celebration that should be on all our calendars, and it goes right along with what I’ve been describing. Next Monday (September 22) is CASAColumbia® Family Day – Be Involved. Stay Involved.® What began as a day to get families eating dinner together is now a national movement to celebrate parental engagement as an effective tool to help keep America’s kids substance free.
So, today I’m giving you some ideas and challenges related to eating dinner with your family, because that’s a great place to start. But remember that mealtimes are only part of the picture. It’s that consistent, daily devotion that really makes a difference for your kids.
Last year the Wall Street Journal reported on some research that asked the question, How long do family dinners need to be in order to reap the positive rewards?
That’s a natural question, right? In today’s world, a family can chow down and be on their way to the next activity in ten minutes. And sometimes that’s the only option. But you can see how that might not be that beneficial in terms of the things I mentioned.
But this study found that when family dinner lasts at least 20 minutes, good things start to happen.
Most likely, that amount of time allows families to actually interact about the day’s events and such. Plates are full. There’s a sense of togetherness. Mom and dad take a breath and look around the table. And you’re actually looking your kids in the eye and noticing things about them instead of exchanging text messages.
So, how do you really make the most of it? Here are few ideas from the article:
1. Protect that time. Turn off the TV; make it a no-media zone; no texting or phone calls allowed. If the phone beeps, it can wait; you’re doing something more important. For you, dad, protecting the time might also mean making a bigger effort to get there on time.
2. Get the kids involved in cooking and other preparations.
3. You might also consider serving the meal in courses, even if some are really simple.
4. Direct the conversation. I know a lot of families do the “high-low” game, where everyone tells about the best part of their day and the most challenging part. There are other names and variations of this: “roses and thorns,” “peak, valley and plateau,” and so on. Or, you can have everyone rate their day from 1 to 10 and tell why they gave it that rating.
Those can be helpful routines, and I’d encourage you, dad, to take the conversation a little deeper when possible. That’s when you get into talking about values and life lessons that can be a real benefit to your kids.
One more thing about dinnertime conversations: save more serious discussions about bad grades or bad behavior for a different time. You want your kids to look forward to this time.
All it takes is 20 minutes. Now imagine what could happen in a full half hour!
How is your family doing with eating meals together regularly? What are your secrets for success? Please leave a comment at our Facebook page.
Action Points for Dads on the Journey
- Plan regular family nights where you play board games, do something active, enjoy a night out, or just eat a relaxed meal together. Make it a firm commitment on everyone’s calendar.
- Calculate how many more days you’re likely to have your whole family together before they start leaving home. It’s sobering, but it will give you an urgency about making the most of your limited opportunities to influence and connect with your children at home.
- Whom do you appreciate for investments they have made in your children? Teachers? Coaches? Mentors? Youth sponsors? Invite them to have dinner with your family.
- Occasionally bring up more serious topics with your kids—like drugs, sex, dating, future aspirations, family dynamics, etc.—but not in a formal or serious way. Treat them like they’re normal topics, and tell your kids they can ask questions any time.
- During a meal or any other time, utilize some of the resources and tips in the Family Day Activity Kit, such as Family Favorites and the Family Interviews.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization seeking to improve the lives of children and establish a positive fathering and family legacy that will impact future generations by inspiring and equipping fathers and father figures to be actively engaged in the life of every child. We encourage you to help us change the culture of fathering in America by joining the Championship Fathering Team. You can also sign up for Carey’s weekly email tips by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who lives out loving, coaching and modeling for my children.