By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
You probably know what we are going to say. We're going to say it anyway. Family meal time is important. Having dinner together as a family can build connectedness, unity and a sense of belonging.
We live in a race-and-chase culture filled with soccer practice, math tutoring, music lessons, and a wide variety of other activities. Both children and adults are in various stages of coming and going. The family meal (dinner) is one opportunity for all to come together, to slow our lives down a bit and remember that people are more important than activities. Observing the ritual of a family meal is a choice. It is a deliberate decision on the part of the adults in the family to structure that important time into the fabric of the day with intentionality and consistency.
The quality of your family meal time is as important as having one. If you are constantly reminding children about table manners, you are defeating the purpose of building family oneness. Watching TV while you eat creates distance and announces to all involved that what is on TV is more important than their ideas, feelings, and opinions.
Use this important time to invite conversation. As the adult, it is your responsibility to structure the conversation, get it started, and make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute. This is an important time, when all family members can practice speaking as well as listening. This time can be invested in discussing current events, debriefing an incident that happened at school, or considering the challenge facing a relative. Perhaps you can use the list of conversation starters below.
Whatever topic you use to promote conversation, the following guidelines will be helpful. Whoever wants to begin goes first. All others listen without interrupting. When the first person is done talking, others can ask questions about his/her ideas or feelings. They cannot share their thoughts or feelings yet. When the first person is done answering questions, the next person takes a turn. The same procedure is followed until everyone has had a turn. It is OK to pass. No one is forced to participate.
A structured process like the one above assures that all will get an opportunity to speak, be affirmed, and feel listened to. In addition, all will have an opportunity to listen, understand differing points of view, and affirm others. After using it several times, the process will become a habit, and reminders about following the process will dwindle.
Begin tonight. Grab a headline from the newspaper, something you heard on the radio, a favorite quote, or one of the topics below. Introduce it during dinner and let the conversation flow. Possible topics include:
Let's all tell where we saw beauty today.
Tell about one thing that surprised you today.
Sum up your day in one word. Explain.
Tell about a time you got frustrated today.
Share something you did today that you would change if you could do it over.
Who would like to suggest a topic for us to talk about tonight?
What is one quality you think you have that you inherited from a relative?
Complete these sentence starters. I wonder . . . I wish . . .
What is one thing you did to help someone else today?
Rate your day on a scale from 1-10. Why did you give it that number?
What would you have to do tomorrow to raise the number?
Tell us about something you did today that was outside of your normal routine.
What is something you would like to pat yourself on the back for?
What motivates you to attempt something new?
If you had to be an animal, which one would you choose?
What is something you learned in school today that you can put to use in your life?
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of Parent Talk Essentials
. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free Uncommon Parenting blog. To obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.uncommon-parenting.com