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Families that eat together, speak together

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Families that eat together, speak together

Question: I recently you heard on a radio show talking about the importance of having family dinners together but I only heard a few of them and I think you mentioned 10 tips. Could you share those tips again? As a father of 3 daughters I’m always looking for practical ways to get my kids to talk.

Answer: This month I was asked to speak to various media on behalf of M & M Meats to promote and educate the public about National Family Dinner Night on September 18.  I was honored to be asked as I’m very passionate about this topic!   I’ve often told families that if they do just #1 thing different to improve their family life and relationships – make having dinner together a priority!  Sitting down to eat provides such an amazing opportunity for families to really connect (and we have to eat anyway so why not leverage this opportunity). That being said as I’ve coached hundreds of families I’ve learned that even if families are eating together – great conversation doesn’t always happen. So I put together my 10 tips to get kids to talk during dinner. Enjoy!

Set a relaxing and fun mood. Have the food ready (not storming back the kitchen every 5 minutes). Put fun music on in the background.

Involve your kids in making the meal and setting the table. Teach that meals are a team effort – not a chance for the parent to be a slave to the kids. This will set the stage for when everyone sits down – conversation should be a team effort not 1 person doing all the work.

Focus on having a positive attitude, being relaxed and simply enjoying being with your kids. This is so simple yet so important! The #1 predictor to get kids to talk is if they perceive their parents are relaxed and positive (not uptight and critical).

Parents should casually facilitate conversation but not dominate it. If one child takes over the conversation, ask a quieter child what they think. If the talkative child takes over, gently remind them that the other child was talking. It’s a parent’s role to make sure that each child is being heard.

Parents need to listen more and talk less. Dinner is the best chance to observe and learn from your kids. Use this time to sit back (literally) and try to understand your kids better.

Males tend to find it easier if questions are specific while girls tend to find it easier if questions are open-ended. For example if you ask your daughter ‘How was your day?’ you might hear a 10 minute answer while from a son you might hear ‘ok’. So for kids who find it more difficult to share, ask specific and interesting questions such as:

What was the best part of your day? What was the toughest part of your day?
What surprised you the most?
What was the weirdest thing that happened?
If you were an animal, what do you think you would be and why?
If your life was a movie, which actor would you want to play you?

Avoid talking about tough or sensitive topics in front of the family (i.e. school, recent arguments, in-laws etc). Focus more on playful and relaxed topics that will help your kids feel more comfortable talking in front of the family.

Ignore all technology (i.e. phone, blackberry, emails etc.). Show your family that they are your priority not the telemarketer on the phone.

Do something unexpected. Rip out an interesting, positive and inspiring picture of something (object, person, word) from a magazine that reminds you of each child. Secretly tape it under each child’s plate. At dinner, get each child to look at their picture and try to guess why you the parent choose that picture for them.

Give yourself enough time.  Many kids complain that meals are too rushed (people quickly taking off to the next extracurricular activities). Try not booking other commitments right after dinner again letting your kids know that they are your priority.