What if I told you that if you did just one thing as a family it would change everything. What if I told you doing this one thing would mean, less trouble with drugs and alcohol, eat healthier, show better academic performance, and report being closer with their parents.
Well tell us already! What is the one thing?
Eat dinner together.
In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other. In a survey, American teens were asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents: dinner was their top answer. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them. This daily mealtime connection is like a seat belt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviors.
Of course, the real power of dinners lies in their interpersonal quality. If family members sit in stony silence, if parents yell at each other, or scold their kids, family dinner won’t confer positive benefits. Sharing a roast chicken won’t magically transform parent-child relationships. But, dinner may be the one time of the day when a parent and child can share a positive experience – a well-cooked meal, a joke, or a story – and these small moments can gain momentum to create stronger connections away from the table. –Washington Post.
The family dinner has been lost. This has happened for a variety of reasons but I strongly believe in families having dinner together. I have seen it at work in my family but the research seems to prove that it is as powerful and meaningful as I have found it to be for our family. If I could encourage parents in our church to start doing one thing it would be this. I know that there are some common questions and objections as to why this wouldn’t work so let’s take them on one at a time.
How often should we eat dinner together?
I would say at least 5 nights a week is optimal and 3 nights a week is minimal.
I don’t cook –
You don’t have to order in or get take out and bring it back home and eat it around the table.
What do we say? I have nothing to talk about. What are some conversation suggestions for younger children?
[Love these suggestions from http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/]
Even if they’re unable to have longer conversations, younger kids like to be included in dinnertime chit chat. Sometimes, a simple “What did you do today?” will result in fun answers about what the child saw on a walk or did during playtime. Asking kids to describe their favorite games, cartoons, or toys will also spark their interest and generate engaged responses. You might ask, “What can your favorite toy or cartoon character do that you’d like to do?”
Additionally, images and photos are great conversation starters. If you have a photo that you don’t mind getting messy, try bringing it to the dinner table and asking your child to describe what he or she sees. If it’s a family photo, the child may ask who’s in the picture and what they’re doing. This could lead to a fun discussion about different family members and their lives.
Children love telling and hearing about stories of their parents, grandparents and their ancestry. You could also try kicking off a story with one of the following questions:
- “Do you know the story of how your parents met?”
- “Do you know how your name was chosen, or how your parents’ names were chosen?
- “Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences they had during their childhood?”
- “Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?”
- What is the earliest story you know about an ancestor?
Here are some great links for resources and more stats on why family dinner is so important.
6 comments On The One Thing That Will Change Your Family Forever.
I completely agree with you on having meals together as being a way to connect as a family and do some intentional building into each other. The research you site as well as many other studies do support that.
How do we help those families who find it a challenge to have meals together because of financial situations where parents are working multiple jobs and/or 2nd and 3rd shift jobs? Labor trends over the past 10 years show that more and more families are having to work more in order to meet basic needs due to lower wages and lack of jobs. How can we help these families connect with each other and reap the benefits of those who have the privilege and income to have a schedule that affords them the ability to have multiple meals together?
In the churches I’ve served in, I realize that I hadn’t done a great job at addressing the needs of financially struggling families (and therefore strapped for time and energy) to connect and disciple their kids. Now that I have shifted from being on a church staff to being a sociologist with research focusing on children, families, and religion, I am spending more time thinking of how we can partner with these parents in the midst of their reality.
It’d be great to hear how you and others are doing that!
Henry thanks for your comment and for the points you brought up that are very valid. As far as work goes that is a tough issue especially when you have to make ends meet. Where I would push back is much of the time that was spent around the dinner table years ago is spent elsewhere. People don’t do it because they don’t value it. We run our kids all over creation for sports and activities and pick up fast food because it’s all we can do because of how we chosen to aline our priorities. Most of our busy is self-imposed. I’m simply saying the time around the table is more valuable than the time in the stands at a baseball game. The time around the table even with one parent if it has to be that way is valuable. I’ve seen it in our lives and it bears out in research. So what I would say is get parents who can to start and work on the exceptions as you gain traction.
Hey there! As a mom of two adult children I will tell you that we made it a priority to have dinner together most nights of the week. If somebody had a meeting or a game, we either waited or those who were home ate together. It was a time to touch base with each other and communicate – no cell phones allowed. In fact, we STILL make this a priority. Our adult son is back from college, working full-time and dinner is almost always together – if not all three of us, then two. When my daughter comes home for a visit, she knows that dinner is together unless she’s made other plans. I work until six thirty or seven so dinner is a little later Monday through Thursdays but it’s still together. Our family is close – not without our problems but where would we be if this hadn’t been a priority. And its still no cell phones except to log what we eat on our LoseIt or FitnessPal apps. 🙂
Love this Karen. It’s so important.
This is a huge thing in our family and has been hard to do even with younger children.
I have three daughters but we make sure to eat dinner together every night of the week. As they grow older I am sure that will change, but the intentionality of eating together and sharing a meal is awesome!
There has been so much growth in our family as we learn to eat, speak, and love each other well.
Matthew this is so important for the spiritual and emotional health of your kids.