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At the Table, Thanksgiving and Beyond

November 24th, 2016     By Bridget Barnes, Director of Common Sense Parenting at Boys Town

At The Table, Connecting with Kids, Family

Studies show what parents probably already suspect: When families sit down and eat together at the table, everyone benefits, especially children. Higher self-esteem and better communication are just the beginning. When parents sit down and eat with their children regularly, they get to know them better, which is invaluable when it comes to heading off potential behavioral issues as they enter their teen years.

Thanksgiving is a perfect time of year to start a family tradition of breaking bread together because it’s one of the few times of the year when everyone puts aside what they’re doing to make time to sit, eat and talk. We just need to try to make time for a mini-Thanksgiving once or twice a week once the holiday season passes.

Make a Plan

Getting a busy family to sit down for an hour to eat dinner is no easy feat. The kids have homework and other after-school activities. Mom and Dad may have work commitments or other commitments that can quickly fill up evening schedules. It’s easy to fall into a fend-for-yourself approach to dinnertime.

That’s why making a plan to eat dinner together at least once a week is so important. Get it on the schedule. Give it the same importance as soccer practice or your monthly book club. Once the plan is made, everyone can organize their schedules around it. Eventually, it will become second nature, and that’s what we’re shooting for. If dinner doesn’t work for everyone, make time for a weekly lunch or even a weekend breakfast. The point is to get everyone to sit down together.

Get the Kids Involved

One way to make family dinners more engaging for everyone is to involve the kids in the planning and execution. Find out what they want to eat, and let them have a hand in its preparation. They can even be involved in shopping for the meal if they have time. This not only gets children invested in the meal itself, but it also gives them skills they’ll need once they leave the nest. For fun, call it the “blue-plate special,” and let whoever has made the meal eat from a special blue plate.

Of course, there is an ulterior motive here, too. While the children are helping Mom or Dad prepare dinner, there’s ample time to pick their brains and open up additional lines of communication. And communication is one of the basic keys to successful parenting. Ask any parent of a teenager; they’ll tell you that as kids get older, their vocabularies seem to shrink, eventually becoming reduced to monosyllabic grunts. So, anything that increases communication is a good thing, as far as we’re concerned.

Other Helpful Tips

  • Keep mealtime talk positive. To help ensure this, place a negative token jar on or near the table. If anyone uses negative language — put-downs, nagging, teasing, etc. — put their name in the jar. At the end of the meal, whoever has the most tokens in the jar is in charge of kitchen cleanup.
  • Consider using conversation starters. Before the meal, write down conversation topics or display an object (vacation pictures, a book, etc.) to keep kids focused on a positive discussion.
  • Make family meals a practice opportunity for a once-a-month dining-out event. Children can earn the opportunity to eat dinner out by improving their manners and mealtime behaviors.
  • Make mealtime a technology-free event. That means no checking smartphones or watching TV while people are eating and talking.

If you can get your family to sit down and eat at the table once or twice a week, then you’ll likely notice positive results right away. You just have to make the effort to get them to do it. Prioritize family dinners as you would any other obligation. After all, there’s nothing more important than your family’s well-being, and this is one simple way to improve it. Now, isn’t that worth giving thanks for?

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