“The word of the day is enthrall.” One dad I talked to had a “word of the day” that he introduced at dinner time, defined and then asked his children to use the following day in a conversation, school class or other setting. They then reported at dinner the next night before receiving a brand new word of the day. The New York Times has a word of the day website where you can get ideas.
Like Renae talked about on Monday, there are compelling reasons why we should make family dinners a priority, and as Maggie shared on Tuesday, there are plenty of easy ways to get food on the table. But what happens once everyone makes it to the table? What do you talk about? How do you keep everyone from talking at once? How do you avoid the “stuff and dash” syndrome? It may seem simple enough to sit down and eat, but without a little bit of planning, your family dinnertime goals could be derailed faster than you can say “fast food in front of the television”.
Here are a few things to think about:
First of all, remember to properly set the stage for a peaceful distraction-free meal. In our family, that means we don’t check our email when it dings, we don’t have the game on in the background (unless the Tigers are in the playoffs), and we don’t run to answer the phone mid-bite. Is it easy? Not always, but it shows our kids that dinner time is important, not just an afterthought.
Set Clear Expectations
Eliminating distractions leaves room for conversation. However, in my family, this can be a bit problematic. Everyone has a lot to say and they all seem to want to say it…at the same time. We have had to set some ground rules, including having the kids raise their hands to talk instead of interrupting. We also make sure that everyone takes turns talking so no one monopolizes the conversation. This goes for the grownups too, not just the kids!
We also have set the expectation that we wait for my husband to get home before we start eating…as much as we possibly can. This means we end up eating dinner around 6:15 or so, which takes a bit of planning on my part to make sure that the kids don’t eat too many snacks and have all their homework and activities done before dinner.
Build Your Table Talk Arsenal
As I mentioned in the expectations section, we don’t have much of a problem with talking at the dinner table. However, it can be helpful to have a “Table Talk Arsenal” to help take the conversation in new directions. Last year, my daughter got a box of conversation starters from our visit to the American Girl store in Chicago. I was inspired to come up with some of our own questions…check out the Table Talk… list and add a few of your own! There is also a great post on Beauty & Bedlam that has another Conversation Starters printable.
I also came across this interesting idea for older kids on about.com:
Keep it Going
After everyone has scarfed down their meal, keep the family time going by not rushing off to the “next thing”. Sit around and chat, fill out a Mad Lib, pull out the puzzles, or plop down for a family game. A few of my kid’s recent favorites include the Gamewright Hisss Card Game or Richard Scarry Airport Game. It matters less what you are doing, and more that you are spending time together!
We hope you have been inspired to take the next step towards family dinnertime, whether that means cleaning off your dining room table for your very first meal or getting back on track with consistent meals together. Also, come back tomorrow for a great menu planning DIY!