The older and busier my kids get, the more difficult sitting down to family dinner has become. I have read all the research about the importance of having dinner together as a family, and I want to make sure that my children are reaping all of those wonderful benefits, but man, when one kid needs to be at piano lessons, another one has dance right afterward, and the third has a late rehearsal, eating dinner together can feel nearly impossible.
(Want to read all the research about the importance of family dinner? Check out this article, which has tons of links to the actual studies here: The Most Important Thing You Can Do With Your Kids? Eat Dinner With Them.)
We are now at the point where there are a couple days a week where family dinner just doesn’t happen. The important thing is that we are doing our best to make it happen. Even if one child is missing, we still have our family dinner with the other two—we rarely have a night where we simply can’t have dinner together at all, though it has been known to happen.
One of the main reasons why having family dinner is essential is because it is often the only time the family is together during the day and can really connect with each other. That connection is the very thing that contributes to all of the benefits kids get from family dinner: better grades, fewer behavioral problems, less stress, and a better relationship with parents.
The thing is, that connection doesn’t just happen because you are all eating at the same table. It happens because parents make a concerted effort to connect with their children during family mealtimes. I have found that three things contribute the most to that connection at our house.
How to Connect With Your Kids During Family Dinner
Have a set time
If there is no expectation of eating together, it is much less likely to happen. I admit that this is something that we sometimes struggle with, but when we do set a dinner time that is non-negotiable, we are much more likely to actually sit down to eat at that time. Of course, having dinner at a set time does require some planning so that there is a meal ready to go at that time! Make sure your morning planning sessions—or even yourevening preparations—include dinner plans.
I cannot stress enough how important this is. If electronics of any type are allowed at the dinner table, connection simply will not happen. This includes phones, iPods, Kindles, and even the television. Dinner should be a time where the family can communicate with one another and if someone is glued to a screen it just doesn’t work.
If you need a little extra help banning technology from your dinner table, try the Circle with Disney. It has worked wonders in our household!
Our family tradition is to go around the table each night and tell our highlight of the day. It is by no means the only communication that happens at the dinner table, but it serves to spark conversation. My kids really love it—especially my youngest daughter.
You don’t have to do highlights if that doesn’t work for your family. Instead you could try one of these conversation starters (best for young children) or do a different tradition such as sharing your biggest failure of the day, telling something kind you did for another person, or explaining something new you learned that day. The possibilities are endless!
I love having family dinner each night. It really is often the only time I have to be with my entire family and see them connect with each other, and that makes me happy as a mother.
Small Habit: Eat together as a family every day.
Big Difference: Family connections, better grades for kids, fewer behavioral problems, and less stress.
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