When I was asked to participate in The Blog for Family Dinner Project I wondered what I, a parent educator who focuses on discipline, could contribute that would honor their tagline “…people who care about food, family, health and the environment and believe that family dinner is a powerful force for good.”
Then it dawned on me. Our family table was a great source for many things. Sure we ate at the table, and talked at the table, but we also used our family table to help us know our children, and ourselves, in a deeper way.
Food, as you well know, isn’t just about eating. It’s about socializing, nurturing, and communicating. Most families have rituals around food. Ways they behave at the table each night. The rituals can be fun, or they can be filled with constant conversation and corrections about what to do, and what not to do.
I decided early on that I wanted eating to be fun at our house. So when the kids were old enough to know a bit about the world around them, we played with their love of geography, astronomy, history, and sports. Hubby was great at this. My husband is a walking treasure trove of fun facts. We came to find out that so were our kids.
Each evening hubby and the kids would lob fun facts around the table to see who knew what. It wasn’t a competition; it was more of a “look at what I know about the things I love” kind of thing. One child was a master geographer. He wanted to be Indiana Jones. The other was a sports fanatic, and wanted to be a professional athlete. They both still love those things, even as adults.
What did I do while they played? I laughed too, of course. But I was also able to be quiet, which I needed. I was able to do something else, too. I watched and listened. I began to see how the family table changed depending on what was going on with the kids.
In the early years I could spot when they were growing. They would eat like there was no tomorrow. Their banter was loud and rambunctious, too. I was also able to spot when they were entering a new developmental phase; they were tired, picky about food, and sharp with their responses.
This knowledge proved exceedingly valuable as they grew. As they got older, if we’d had a behavior related incident that day, I would pay close attention to how they were at the dinner table. Were they respectful or snarky? In other words did they feel the situation was emotionally resolved, or did they feel there more to say?
As the years went by the family table gave me a bird’s eye view into their lives. When their attitude turned snarky I looked at the current influences in their lives. Were they reacting to something in school, a teacher or a friend, or were they fearful of something going on in their lives?
My kids had a habit of being snarky at the dinner table when something was bothering them. They knew I’d want to have a chat when they acted like that. They also knew our chats allowed them to spill whatever was going on. Being snarky at the dinner table was one of their red flags to ask for help.
The family table also helped us when girls entered the picture. I used that knowledge to create Sunday Manner Meals. Each Sunday I’d serve a messy or difficult meal to eat. That gave me the chance to instruct them on manners and show them how to eat things like spaghetti politely. I told them that no dad would let them take a girl out if they ate like a caveman!
Many experts say that having a family dinner is how you keep your kids plugged into your family. I agree. I also believe family dinners are a great way to stay plugged into your kids and what’s going on in their world.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and the founder of Proactive Parenting, www.proactiveparenting.net. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding, not reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions raising kids ages 1-10 creates. Twitter: @sharon_silver Facebook: @http://www.facebook.com/Sharon.ProActiveParenting.Tips