I’m about to tell you something really big. This one tip for parenting has the power to transform your family. If you can implement just one change in your household, make it this one. Are you ready for this? Ok…here it is: Eat family dinners around the table. I didn’t really know this wasn’t the norm until I started talking to other people about it. As it turns out, family dinners around the table aren’t as common as I thought.
According to the web site www.thefamilydinnerproject.org, “Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience.” What other thing can you do as a parent that has so much benefit for so little effort?
Right now, some of you are saying, “This crazy woman doesn’t know our family’s schedule.” I get it. You’re busy. I remember the weeks that had multiple sports practices, school functions, board meetings and homework to finish. Sometimes you are just glad to shovel a little food into your kids on the way to the next thing on the agenda.
I’m not talking about serving a gourmet meal every night of the week. It really doesn’t matter if the meal is frozen fish sticks or even a Happy Meal. The key to this tip is to sit around a table. Maybe that table is in your local Wendy’s or Chipotle. That’s ok too. Just gather as a family and eat together. Ask each other about your day. Tell them about something you read or something that happened at work. Let them tell you about the math test that was so hard or the science experiment that went wrong.
If you’re new at this concept, you might have a jar of conversation starters that each person draws from. These might be something like “Tell us something that made you laugh today” or “Tell one new thing you learned today.” You can look on Pinterest for a million ideas for these kinds of prompts.
Put your phones away. Make this a family rule that no one is allowed to look at the phone or the tv until you’ve had dinner. Model this by putting a box or a basket on the table and having everyone stow their device until everyone is finished eating. It is a rare occasion that there is an emergency so important that it can’t wait for 30 minutes until you all get finished.
For those of you with younger kids, I know that mealtime might be the most stressful time of the day. Getting dinner on the table, trying to find something that your picky eaters won’t complain about, cleaning up milk spills and making sure the toddlers aren’t feeding their dinner to the dog make this time of day a hair-raising experience! Can I just encourage you to keep trying? There will come a day that you’ll have intelligent conversation and you won’t be reminding your preschooler to take another bite every 45 seconds.
Now that my kids are grown and gone, my favorite dinners are when they are gathered back around the family table. Yes, we’ve added more chairs to accommodate daughters-in-law and grandchildren and sometimes it’s a big messy event. We still have milk spills. Sometimes we have debates about politics or current events. But mostly what we have is laughter and teasing and everyone telling stories about things that have happened during the week. It’s a time to reconnect and share a little bit of our busy lives. Oh yeah, and we eat. I can guarantee it isn’t a gourmet meal and sometimes it’s just Chinese take -out or pizza. That really is the smallest detail. The best part is when we linger over the empty plates long after the meal is over because we’re still talking.
So as you’re slogging through the years of sippy cups and cutting everybody's meat, take heart. Eventually these meals will morph into something you’ll enjoy and in the meantime you’ll be getting to know the people that your children are becoming. And take it from a mama who has a few miles on the odometer….the results are worth it.
5 Easy Ways to Ruin Your Kid
There’s a lot of parenting advice out there but if you want to really succeed at ruining your kid, these 5 easy steps will get the job done. (P.S. If they ever tell you that you are the meanest parent in the world, you are doing this all wrong.)
They are the kids who want to be on the inside of every inside joke. They are the kids who want to point out how they fit in and how others stick out. They are the kids who always have someone to sit with and protect the seats all around them for their friends.
They are the kids who you can hear bragging to their friends because they don’t have a bedtime and their parents let them have a say in all the decisions. They are the kids who aren’t a bit intimidated when a teacher informs them that they’ll have to contact the parents. These kids know whose side you’ll be on no matter what.
I was a failure as a parent. My kids would gladly tell you that I would never let them win at games and I didn’t care what new thing all their friends had. I was unbending and rigid when I gave them an answer they didn’t like and I always believed it when another adult told me something rotten they did. In spite of all that bad parenting, they have grown up to be responsible adults. And you want to know the weirdest thing? They are turning out to be failures as parents too. And nothing does this mama’s heart more good than to hear my words come out of their mouths.
Kindergarten….it ain’t what it used to be! In days gone by, kids went to kindergarten to learn their ABC’s and how to use scissors. Now they are expected to come IN to kindergarten with a baseline level of skills which include recognizing and writing the alphabet and even some sight words. Kids who haven’t had some sort of preschool experience or parents working diligently with them at home are already behind before their school career even starts!
I can tell you from experience that there is a real difference in kids who have parents who are engaged in the learning process. A few years ago we had a little guy who was clearly at the top of the class. His parents were not Ivy League scholars or prominent executives. In fact, they were just average working class laborers who made their child a priority. They did some things that really made a difference and probably didn’t even know they were doing such a great job! Every week when they came to school, they had been talking about the new letter of the week and trying to guess what the letter would stand for in our phonics chant. It was just a little game that dad and son would play on the way to school, but it sparked a curiosity in that child that made him eager to learn.
So how can you build a firm foundation before they step into the classroom on that first day? Here are 10 things that will help your little one get ready:
Lies Parents Tell
When I was a little girl, I was playing too near an old metal fan. My grandpa showed me his hand that was missing part of a finger and warned me that if I wasn’t careful that would happen to me too. As it turned out, that was a big fat lie. A few years ago, many years after my grandfather died, I was relating that story to someone and my husband said, “You know that he was just kidding, right? He cut that off in an industrial accident.” What?! All those years I believed something that was patently untrue!
Here’s a classic: when my kids were little I told them about the eyes that only moms have in the back of their heads. One night as I was rocking my toddler he was groping around the back of my head and running his fingers through my hair. Finally, annoyed, I asked what he was doing and he said that he was seeing if he could feel the eyes in the back of my head.
When my older son was little we lived in another state. I had complete control in a way that people who live near grandparents will never have. I told him that the ice cream truck was just a nice man who played music for the children. When we moved back to our hometown and the ice cream truck rolled through our neighborhood, my mother totally blew it and bought him ice cream.
When I was about 5, we saw a baby fox lying dead on the side of the road. That was so traumatic and I was distraught over the poor little creature. What was even worse was that my mom told me it was because he wasn’t holding his mommy’s hand when he crossed the street. Of course, it was easy to remind me of the fox whenever I balked at holding her hand to cross a street or parking lot after that.
My 4 year old grandson still needs to take a nap, but he always says he isn’t tired. I tell him that he only has to lie still for 10 minutes with his eyes closed and then he can get up and play. Works every time.
When my best friend’s kids were little, she was trying to get them to confess about something. She told them she would just have to go back and watch the video tape and see if they were lying. They were terrified of being caught in a lie and blurted out their misdeeds. Incredibly, she rode that horse for years—threatening to review the invisible tape whenever she needed the truth.
My daughter in law got a Roomba for Christmas. She has the kids convinced that if they leave their toys on the floor, the Roomba will suck them up. Wanna see them freak out? Turn that baby on while the door to the playroom is open.
Time for confession, mamas and daddies. Tell me what lies you have told your kids. Some of you are saying right now that you never lie to your kids. Oh really? I mean, even if you cut out the classics like Santa and the Tooth Fairy, I’ll be willing to bet that you have told them the Paw Patrol dvd is broken or that the candy machine at the store is broken before. Come on. Fess up. There’s no judgement here.
Hi! I'm Janet and I've been the Director of the Before and After School and Smart Start Preschool Programs at the Troy Rec since 1994. My hubby and I have been married 30 years and we have two grown sons. Each of them is married and blessing us with grandchildren left and right. Life is good even when the nest is empty!