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Family Dinners: Tips for Better Communication

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Family Dinner Conversation Tips continued...

Talk about your own day. Get the ball rolling. Talk about something funny that happened to you today. Alternatively, Sachs suggests talking about something that troubled you. "Talk about daily problems and vulnerabilities and how you worked through them," says Sachs. "You're showing your kids how to cope."

Don't have all the answers. You don't have to have a solution for every problem your child brings up. "If your kid is talking about issues with friends, your response should not be 'I'll go call their mothers.'" says Kennedy-Moore. Instead, ask your kid what she thinks she should do. "If you try to solve all of your kids' problems, you're robbing them of the ability to solve themselves," she tells WebMD.

Make sure everyone gets a turn. Does one kid tend to monopolize conversation at dinner, while another remains silent? Don't just muzzle the talky kid. "Encourage the more articulate child to ask questions of the sibling," he tells WebMD. "Get your kids to talk to each other instead of just talking to you."

5 Ways to Make Dinnertime Easier

A successful family dinner isn't only about the conversation (or the food.) Setting the tone and the structure for your meal will help. Here are some tips.

  1. Get rid of distractions. Remove books and magazines from the table. Turn off the TV. Silence the cell phones and put them in another room.
  2. Get kids involved in making the food. Your kids are more likely to be enthusiastic about dinner -- and try new foods -- if they've played a role in making the meal. You can also start talking while you cook together. "Kids are more likely to open up when you're shoulder to shoulder, working together, instead of facing each other in a direct conversation," says Kennedy-Moore.
  3. Adapt. If your teen's play late rehearsal or practice is making family dinner impossible, change things up. What about shifting to a family breakfast instead? "There's nothing magical about dinner time specifically," says Kennedy-Moore. "All you need is a predictable time that you spend together." If your teen is getting home very late, sit down and have a cup of tea with him while he eats leftovers, says Kennedy-Moore. 
  4. Keep it short. "Dinner doesn't have to go on and on," says Kennedy-Moore. "A lot of kids are done eating in 15 minutes." You don't need to drag things out artificially.
  5. Keep it simple.  Don't have time to make a delicious, nutritious, home-cooked meal every night? Who does? Don't let that stop you from having a family dinner together most nights.

"Eating together doesn't mean that mom has to slave for hours on a brisket," says Kennedy-Moore. "If you're having take-out or box mac & cheese, make the minimal effort to put it on plates and sit down together." It's the togetherness that matters, not the main course.

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Reviewed on June 20, 2012

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