As a counselor working with families, one of the biggest complaints I hear is that kids and parents feel “disconnected” even though they are living under the same roof. Family members are swamped with demands of work, school, and personal hobbies. Time together sometimes falls by the wayside.
I often suggest penciling time around the dinner (or breakfast) table. Everyone has to eat, right? And research shows that a family meal is an ideal time to connect with one another.
Here is my “family recipe” for a perfect meal time:
- The meal takes place in the dining room or kitchen: Eating together at a table, facing one another lends to easy conversation and engagement, while limiting distractions that are often found in other areas of the house.
- Dinner lasting between 15-30 minutes: This is long enough to eat, discuss the day, and share a laugh, but not so long that your kids are falling off their chairs, desperate to escape! Bonus points for the family members pitching in to help clean up the kitchen!
- Dinnertime has one (or more) parent present: When surveyed, teens say they are most likely to share information with their parents over the dinner table (a close second is in the car). A shared joke, personal story or celebration of triumph over dinner creates momentum for continued conversations later on.
- Keep it positive: Needless to say, you will be less likely to reap many of the above benefits if you share a meal in stony silence. For many families, navigating positive conversations around the table can feel like walking in a mine field. Do not use meal times to address sensitive subjects, air complaints, or issue punishments. If you struggle to find things to talk about, consider using conversation cards. You can find ones like “table topics” on amazon.
- Notice and talk about the food: I don’t mean to moralize your food choices or describe them as “good” and “healthy” or “bad” (unless it’s overcooked chicken. That can be described as bad). I’m talking about taking a minute to be mindful of what the family is eating. Spend a few seconds to savor the smells from the kitchen before digging in. Notice the taste and the texture. Try to guess the spices and engage in the experience. Developing awareness and mindfulness when eating has been shown to contribute to healthier food choices, positive psychological relationships with food, and reduced risk of obesity. Compliments to the Chef!
- Keep screens at bay: Sitting away from distractions isn’t effective if you bring them to the table. Remind your kids (and yourself) that mealtime is less than an hour. Whoever just posted on instagram or facebook can wait. Use this time to connect face to face. Talk about what you’ve been reading or watching rather than using this time to do either.
The more often you use and fine tune this “recipe” the better the results. Now eat up and feast on the company of those you love!