You may have heard it on the news or morning talk shows: Have dinner together as a family often. There’s even a national initiative, Family Day, that reminds parents “what your kids really want at the dinner table is you.”
Studies have found that kids who have frequent family dinners are less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
But it’s not just about the food, say experts: it’s about the connection. Whether you’re eating dinner, going for a nature walk, or holding a family karaoke night, spending time together builds healthy families and healthy kids.
“If you grew up in a healthy family that did these things, it makes intuitive sense to you: this is what glues families together,” says Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays & Everyday. “It’s about a sense of connection, of being loved, a sense of identity and security that runs very deep.”
What family activities can you do with your kids to build those essential connections? The sky’s the limit! To get started with some fun family activities, try these tips from Cox and Lawrence Cohen, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Playful Parenting.
Family Fun With Food
Play “conversation in a jar" (or basket, or bin). Keep a container on the dinner table with blank slips of paper, and whenever you think of a cool question, write it down and toss it in. Some examples from Cox: “What’s something you can do better than your parents?” “If there were a holiday named after you, how would people celebrate it?” “Make up a nickname for everyone at the table -- nothing mean!” Once a week, use some of the questions in the basket to spark conversations at dinner.
Shake it up. Every so often, have a wacky family dinner night. “Sometimes we’ll eat with the big serving utensils, use serving platters instead of plates, and drink out of big pitchers instead of cups,” says Cohen. Or you can put food coloring in everything and make goofy food. Or just serve dinner as a picnic, on a blanket in the living room or playroom.