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From Building Stronger Family Relationships

In the Increasing Your Child’s Emotional IQ Series

In a previous post I wrote about increasing a child’s emotional IQ. This post is the first in a follow-up series, focusing on what parents can do in the home to nurture healthy emotions.

My favorite activity for developing family relationships is eating dinner together every night. While recognizing that schedules will interfere, strive to make it the standard that children will count on, not an exception. Frequency will solidify memories.

Here are six simple suggestion that will help dinner be a time to look forward to:

  1. Unplug. Have dinner be an electronic free zone. Provide a container where all phones, remotes, music devices, etc. etc. are deposited before sitting down. Children can send a text prior to the meal saying they will be unavailable for the next hour. Turn off the TV. This also helps break the mental connection that equates TV watching with food.
  2. Say a prayer. Not only does this remind your children that the meal is providentially provided, but include gratitude for those who work and contribute to the family budget that bought the groceries. “Thank you for our parents who work hard to provide for us.” It also creates a moment of “pause” when children stop the go-go-go rhythm and exhale. A new rhythm is then established for the meal, one of patience, taking turns, and helping young ones to dish their food.

This time of restraint is also emotionally healthy. Children gain a sense of security when they are taught boundaries.

  1. Teach your children to wait until the one who prepared the meal is seated and takes the first bite. This encourages patience, but also acknowledges the gift of their time and efforts; it is an expression of appreciation, and it teaches respect.
  2. Encourage conversation. You might begin by each child telling something they learned that day, or some act of kindness they did for someone else. You could ask about their challenges or follow-up on a project you know they are involved in. Perhaps share a quote like “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself” (Leo Tolstoy) and ask what they think of it.

A jar of quotes, questions, headlines or other topics could be kept at hand to draw from for a conversation starter.

  1. Be sure to smile often, laugh occasionally, but avoid stressful topics. Save the conflicts or discussion of bills, etc. for when parents are together alone. Likewise, don’t use dinner time to discuss a child’s misbehavior—save that for a private time later with the child. Some topics require a family counsel when members discuss a situation with love and soberness. At dinner, try to create an atmosphere that does not impede digestion.

Try to create a time of open conversation that bonds each other together in a shared experience. If needed, a talking stick (wooden spoon works) can be utilized until a pattern of taking turns and all participating is established. Tell them that every opinion and idea is valued and everyone wants to hear what each person says.

  1. At the end of the meal, encourage children to ask if they may be excused from the table. Have each person be responsible for rinsing and loading their own place setting. The remaining clean-up could be done on a scheduled rotation. This again reinforces respect and teaches stewardship—boundaries that instill self-confidence.

Some of my best memories are of dinner with my family. I remember the laughter, the connecting, the waiting while young ones were served, and even (especially?) some of the pranks. But that’s another post. What have you found that works for your family?