A guest post by Lucy Kesler, Inn Keeper at The Olde Buffalo Inn B+B
What would your response be if I told you that there is something entirely FREE that you could start THIS WEEK that has the potential to change your relationship with your children for the better? This is something you do EVERYDAY anyway, you’ll just need to change your mindset about it. This principle is useful for those with kids as young as 6 months and as old as, well…there’s no limit on the age. This principle was invaluable as our children became teenagers and our adult children still benefit from this principle. Are you ready? Here it is:
Routinely eat meals together as a family.
And let me define what I mean by ‘eating together’. It means that the parents are there (physically and mentally) along with all of the children. It means you sit together, around a table (or on the floor having a picnic) and eat at the same time and mostly the same food. It means that you don’t just sit and eat, but that you actually communicate and connect AS A FAMILY. This means no TV. No hand held devices (cell phones, games, etc.) for anyone, including the parents (gulp…)
What do you gain by doing this?
If your children are young, they are learning valuable skills from you. It is an opportunity to teach them manners and social skills (don’t interrupt, chew with your mouth closed, sit up straight, how to take turns).
They learn how to put others needs before their own…as in, “no, you can’t eat a peanut butter sandwich right now, we’ll ALL be eating together in 30 minutes and you can wait.”
Children thrive on routine. As much as you possibly can, eat meals at the same time every day. There is security in knowing that “we eat supper at 5:30.”
It’s a time to teach values without preaching. If you talk about helping someone, or how you were kind to someone in line at the store, or if you express concern about someone’s illness, your kids pick up on these things without you saying “you need to be kind and loving.” It’s like you’re serving values along with the green beans.
As you are beginning to eat healthier foods they will see you eating and enjoying them and want to try them too. You are shaping their future palates and what tastes and textures they like.
Time all together as a family unit. This is so important for emotionally healthy children. They come to realize that they are part of something bigger than they are…a family. They learn to know who their parents are…what Dad and Mom do all day and some of their struggles. What their siblings are thinking about and doing.
When your children are teenagers this family time becomes vital to staying connected. Teenagers need this connectedness time even more as they think they need it less. And to be honest, it gets harder because they may have extra-curricular activities or even jobs that take them away. But find creative ways to eat together as much as possible, even if you have to eat later or earlier than you’d like.
If this is a new idea or something you have never done, here’s how to start. (And by the way, the perfect age to start this is when they are just beginning to sit in a high chair and eat finger foods…then they grow up with this idea of eating together as normal and good)
Start small. Decide on one night a week when everyone can be together. After that is routine, go to two and then three nights or more. It’s the routine that is the most helpful.
At the beginning, choose to have something the majority of your family likes to eat. Even eating breakfast food for dinner works if it’s something you can all agree on. This helps set things off on the right tone.
Be strong in the face of some initial opposition. Depending on the age of your children they may think they prefer eating in front of the TV or by themselves or that they will die if they can’t text for 30 minutes. But persevere—you are the parent and this is definitely worth it!
Have some ideas of topics to talk about to get things started. Learn to ask creative questions. Don’t ask “how was your day” (which might get you a grunt from a teenager) Instead ask what the funniest thing that happened today? There are websites out there that have lists of questions/ideas to spark conversations. Look them up and try it. Or assign each of your children a different night to pick a topic. Or how about everyone bring a joke (knock, knock…) to share?
As you progress in this eating together venture, branch out. Invite others to join you, especially your children’s friends or even other adults who do interesting things. There’s another whole post here! When you have teens in the house, be open to having unexpected hungry monsters teens join you for dinner. The rewards of this are very far reaching. Even 20 years later, our kids’ friends tell us how much it meant to them to eat with us.
Your family is unique. There is not another one like it ANYWHERE! Enjoy each other. Eat together!
Does your family share the evening meal?
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday!