What’s dinner time like at your house? Rushed, harried, or stressful? All eyes on the TV or cell phones constantly dinging? Or was your answer more like “What dinner time?”
Healthy food isn’t the only good reason for families to share meals together.
“There are benefits of having regular family dinners, but the benefits don’t come from making a three-course gourmet meal,” says Anne K. Fishel, PhD, associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of Home for Dinner. “They come from the warm, welcoming, relaxed atmosphere at the table.”
How can you get everyone to slow down and enjoy each other? Try these tips to turn a stressful family meal into an enjoyable nightly tradition.
The problem: You can’t get everyone to the table.
If you’re having a hard time getting your kids to sit down and eat, take a look at your own behavior, too. “Parents need to be on the same page, modeling the idea that this is something that we want to do as a family,” says Adelle Cadieux, PsyD, pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. “That means getting to the table when the meal is ready rather than finishing ‘one more thing.’”
With little kids who can’t seem to sit still, focus on the positive. Praise them when they do manage to stay in their chairs, rather than scolding them when they’re too squirmy. And don’t expect perfection every time. “For a toddler, you might not get more than 10 minutes of seated dinnertime, and that’s OK,” Cadieux says.
The problem: People are glued to a screen.
Again, your own habits make a difference. One study of 55 families found that parents were more likely than kids to be distracted by their phones during a meal. “Parents don’t realize that when they’re on their phones, even though it might be work-related and they think it’s really important, they’re essentially telling their kids that it’s OK to have a device at the table,” Cadieux says.