Meaningful mealtime connection:
In the first post in this series we talked about how family meals are an effective “vaccine” for your kids against all sorts of harmful choices. Research also shows that although family meals get harder to schedule as your kids become teens, they become even more important to their well-being!
So once you figure out a schedule for meals together and get the kiddos corralled at the table, how can you maximize the value of those times together? How can you pass the values and faith while you pass the veggies and fruit? These are important questions. Technology has brought media and your kids’ peers virtually into your home and your kids’ pockets nearly 24-7. If you aren’t thoughtful about how to be the strongest, clearest “voice” in this barrage of influences, someone else will raise your kids. And they probably won’t share your values.
Family meals together provide the perfect opportunity to share experiences and discuss values with your children. Here are three practical tips for meaningful mealtime connection:
1. Work together:
Use meal prep to start passing values before the food is even on the table. When kids help prepare a meal it helps build a value of healthy eating as well as serving others. A good dose of expressing your appreciation for the help also sets the stage for warm interaction at the table.
2. Minimize conflict, maximize connection:
Jesus shared such joyous and unconditional love at meals with a great variety of people that the Pharisees accused him of being a “glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst sort of sinners!” (Luke 7:34) Apparently Jesus didn’t use dinners as a time to address his companions’ sin, because they kept wanting to join him. A connective tone is essential for passing values during dinner. It is not the time to bring up the D’s on Junior’s report card or require him to down those brussel sprouts! There are effective solutions if power-struggles with picky eaters or squirmy kids are spoiling your dinners, but as much as possible, focus on positive connection rather than reprimands and reminders.
3. Don’t be afraid to dive in deep! (THE BEST PART)
Families often talk about highlights of the day at dinner, which is essentially the question, “What made you happy today?” This makes for fun conversation, but without deeper perspectives it can reinforce the notion that circumstances control our mood. Adding questions like “When were you peaceful when things didn’t go your way today?” or “When did you work hard at something that was tough?” can deepen the discussion and help kids to appreciate and value their own perseverance and self-control.
You can also share prayer requests, or build questions off of key values in your family: “What was your favorite thing that you learned today?” “Was there a time today when you remembered how much God loves you?” or “How were you a blessing to someone today?” Over the years, these meaningful mealtime questions impacted our kids’ values in ways that continue to this day.
Parents sometimes shy away from these deeper discussions — especially those related to faith and spirituality — for fear of awkwardness. But what do our kids really wish they could talk about at the table with us? “Religious matters” is the topic that the greatest percentage of teens (more than half) say they wish they could honestly discuss with their parents over dinner! (CASA, 2005) Note the wording – “honestly discuss”. Instead of trying to “dump truth on them”, which sets off the “lecture-alert” bells in their brains, ask questions about their thoughts and ideas. Or set the stage with some honesty of your own about a spiritual struggle you have. One day I (Lynne) somewhat awkwardly blurted out that I was anxious about heaven and eternity, and it turned into one of the liveliest, most productive conversations I ever had with our kids! Awkward does not mean failure — it communicates that your faith is so important to you that you are willing to take a risk and maybe even look a little foolish. (For more ideas on raising culture-wise kids with authentic faith, grab our book “How to Grow a Connected Family”)
Parents, YOU are still the most important people in your kids’ lives. If your family has slipped into a “Meals on Wheels,” Dinner with The Screen, or Feeding Frenzy approach to meals, claim the rich heritage of Jesus’ example. Eat, relax, connect, and pass the values!
- To help you start fun and meaningful mealtime conversations, we’ve created free printable Dinner Table Connection Question Cards that accompany our book “How to Grow a Connected Family”. Print and cut them out, put them in a jar on the table, and take turns drawing cards and asking questions. Enjoy!
OTHER RECOMMENDED RESOURCES FOR DINNER-TABLE DEPTH:
- Keep Talking – Conversation Starters for the Family Meal, Barbara Z. Carlson
- Putting Family First: Successful Strategies for Reclaiming Family Life in a Hurry-Up World, Dr. William Doherty
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