Let’s start with a little anonymous poll. Raise your hand if you had dinner together last night as a family. Go ahead, I promise no one will be watching or taking notes. Good, now how many of you enjoyed it? Go ahead, let’s get those hands back up. Okay, one more. How many of you used this time to deepen your relationships with your kids and build character in them? I won’t ask for hands on that one.
The fact is that many of us have a standing family dinner date. If not you should. Even the secular researchers have linked a regular family dinner to better grades, less alcohol, cigarette and drug use as well as a decrease in a myriad of other destructive behaviors. Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has even instituted a Family Day in September as well as a national campaign for to promote family dinners. If you want more proof spend a little time on Google searching for “family meals research” you will find articles from ABC, NY Times, even BusinessWeek. I am thinking this might just be important!
Now we all know that it isn’t the meal that makes the difference. No, it is the conversation and the time invested in each other that makes the difference. So, that brings me back to my third question above. How many of us deliberately structure that time as a learning opportunity? I will be honest here, I am often more concerned with what needs to be accomplished after dinner than what is going on during dinner. Fortunately my kids do not let me get away with this. You see, my wife and I took a cue from my upbringing and started the routine of reading the Bible after dinner when our oldest was only one year old. It is now simply a part of dinner (and most other meals) and he reminds us if it even looks like we might be thinking about try to shortcut that family time. Yes, this is a good thing.
I have great memories from my childhood of sitting around the table and reading books, memorizing scripture, or playing conversation games. My favorite is still reading through the Character Sketches book (right). It uses nature to demonstrate personal character traits like teamwork, determination, and integrity. It is amazing how many of these stories still pop into my head from time to time. I also still enjoy thinking back on the friendly competitions my brother and I used to have with scripture memorization. It was one of the few times we usually got along.
There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to engage your kids at the dinner table. In the process, you will be building memories as well as character. A recent addition to our dinner time is a game called “Beginner Dinner Games.” (left) My son insists on calling it the “inner dinner games” and seems to enjoy it. These are very simple table games such as guessing items in a bag, making up a story as a family, or having a vegetable eating contest. They have become an instant hit in our house. Like I said, the possibilities are endless, as are the rewards. By the way, if you don’t have a family dinner routine it is never too late to start one. You might have some resistance at the beginning, but in the long run your kids will thank you.
If you have a favorite dinner time memory or current activity let me know in the comments. I am sure others are interested as well.