7 January 2010 03:39 PM

Why Family Dinners are Important to Learning.

by Dr. Rick

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your family is doing all it can to help its youngsters do well in school, feel safe, learn family values, build affection for one another, and have a good time is to enjoy a family dinner together as often as possible.


Common sense tells us that when families routinely share special events they form strong relationships and build a foundation for lasting commitment.  What easier routine to establish than the family dinner, filled with companionship, conversation, and sharing?


The research is there, too.  A study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University a few years ago showed that teens who have dinners with their families five or more times a week are less likely to smoke, drink, or abuse drugs, and are more likely to receive As and Bs in school.


How to set up this important routine if you’ve not already done so?  Here are some tips.


1.  Commit to it.  Determine with your family that dinners together are a reasonable and worthy goal.  Ask for everyone’s commitment that you’re going to enjoy family dinners every night or on as many agreed-upon nights as possible.  The more the better.  Talk about why this is a good thing to do for each of you individually and for all of you as a family.  Then, stick to it.


2.  Turn off all screens.  Dinner is “special” time.  Turn off the TV, cell phones, video games, BlackBerries, and Ipods.  The whole purpose of family dinner is to bring the family closer.  Screens isolate us from the people immediately around us.


3.  Talk.  There are so many things to talk about. The important thing is to be a good listener, to ask pertinent questions, to make supportive comments.  Make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute and to be heard.  Here are some ideas.

  • Stories about each person’s day.  The favorite part, the funniest part, the hardest part, the most important part.  “What I learned today” is a good conversation starter, prompting reflection and thought.  You’ll be amazed at how the younger folk listen to the older folk’s stories.
  • Favorite stories and memories about family members who are no longer alive.  Tell immigration stories, stories of where ancestors came from, memories of weddings, family gatherings, and unforgettable events.  Make the family’s past come alive and be a part of your children’s present.
  • Tell about your job, its interesting aspects and its challenges.  Talk about your favorite colleagues.
  • Interesting readings.  Talk about books you’re reading for fun.  When kids see that adults read, too, reading becomes more than just a subject at school.  Show an interest in the books they’re reading for school.
  • Progress on upcoming assignments.  “How’s that biology term paper coming along?  It’s due in two weeks, right?”  This casual remark shows you’re aware of important dates and have high expectations.
  • Current events.  No shortage of topics here.  We live in interesting times.
  • Teacher stories.  Encourage kids to talk about their favorite teachers.  What are the characteristics that each favorite teacher shares?
  • Sports.  Home teams, school teams, favorite professional teams.
  • Hobbies.  Take an interest in each other’s pastimes.
  • Movies.  Talk about each family member’s favorites.
  • Events you’re looking forward to.
  • Personal goals and our progress toward them.  How can we all support each other?
  • Family challenges that will require everyone’s commitment.
  • Travel goals.  Where to go on the next vacation?  Where in the world do you want to go someday?  Why?

4.  Make other routines.  Establish routines that go along with family dinners, like helping each other prepare the meal together, setting the table, clearing the table.  Take turns saying a blessing and acknowledging things each of you is thankful for.  Listen.  You can learn a lot during grace.


5.  Invite others.  You’ll see.   Your family dinners will begin to attract others.  Allow kids to invite their friends from time to time.  Who knows?  You may start a very constructive trend.


What are your family’s dinner traditions and favorite conversation topics?  Share them with us by clicking on “Comments” below.





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