Breakfast, lunch and dinner are often rushed times for families. Parents and children grab their meals around a busy schedule of school, clubs, sports, and work – and they can miss a great opportunity to connect with each other. Sitting down for a meal can strengthen family connection, increase quality communication and emotional support, and reinforce healthy eating habits. The physical and emotional well-being of each individual can improve when we slow down to dine together. It’s an endeavor well worth the extra effort!
So how can you squeeze in one more event?
Schedule family dinners on your calendar like you would any other activity or commitment. Intentionally setting aside time communicates to the whole family that this is something just as important as baseball or ballet practice. That also means your family needs to limit the distractions, too: no TV, phone, tablets, or computers for the duration of the half-hour or hour-long meal.
Plan the meal with your children. What a great opportunity to teach preparedness and organization (picking the date and place), planning (eating out or staying in), direction following (using recipes), and intentional food selection. You’re teaching healthy eating habits and allowing children to practice good decision-making. It also helps little ones build self-esteem as they contribute to the family.
Share about your day. Encourage conversation and talk about highlights, events in your day, or something you’re looking forward to with your family. If you’re having difficulty getting the conversation going or you’re receiving a lot of one-word answers, try prompts like “something you’re grateful for” or “highs and lows (accomplishments and disappointments) from your day.”
Keep the conversation going. Asking specific questions can help; sometimes “How was your day?” can end a conversation before it begins. For example, you could ask “What was your favorite subject today?” or “What art pieces did you like at the museum?” Model being open to conversing pleasantly with your child, and ask follow-up questions to your children’s response so they feel listened to and understood. Keep yourself from using this time to discuss problems you have with your children – keep the conversation relaxing and pleasurable instead.
Family mealtimes don’t have to be daily. Consistency is key (weekly if possible!), but be flexible, too – you can change up the date, the time, and the place. You can all eat at home or out, pack a picnic, or go out for breakfast.
It may seem foreign at first but keep it up and you’ll find the security and comfort it can provide will wear away any lingering resistance. The real meaning behind family mealtime is to practice togetherness and support so the more often you share that time, the more you’ll see the benefits.
Jessica Yost Bloom is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist. She has a private practice in Glenview, IL and specializes in working with children and adolescents. Find her at http://www.inbloomcounseling.net