There are a few “Old Fashioned Values” that I ascribe to. One of them is eating dinner together at the table. Food is life sustenance and should be celebrated with our family. It is an opportunity to connect with one another at the end of the day, to share the events of our lives, and to enjoy and “get to know each other”. It is also an opportunity to “teach” our children table manners and food etiquette. If you can’t get your family to the table every night, select a few nights each week to designate as “family meal nights”. Your children may resist this at first but will probably learn to love it and make it a priority to show up if you make mealtime pleasant.
Dinnertime conversation is the basis of a pleasant meal. Have you noticed that kids tend to get monosyllabic as they get older? All of your questions are met with answers like, “Nothing” or “Fine”. Here’s how to get some conversation started:
- Ask open-ended questions. “What was the best thing that happened in your day today?” If this doesn’t elicit more than a one word response, share the best thing from your day. Share a story about anything that happened that might be of interest. Share a joke. When the focus is OFF of them, they begin to think of things that they would like to share with you.
- Don’t take it personally if your kid seems uninterested in what you are saying. Don’t try too hard. Keep it casual and friendly.
- Inspire laughter.
- Be patient. Most kids will join in eventually. (They really do want connection with you.) When they do talk to you, listen to them. Be interested in what they have to say. Ask the kind of questions that show them that you are listening and that you care.
The practicalities of manners and etiquette:
- Model good manners. If you use good manners they (eventually) will too.
- State what you want (“It is polite to say/do…”) rather than what you don’t want (“It is rude to say/do…”).
- Take the time to teach. Always “teach” in a way that is non-shaming. (No one learns well if they feel they are being shamed.) My parents taught us “public manners”. We were allowed to be more lax at home as long as we knew what would be expected if we were eating at a restaurant or at a friend’s house. So that we (and they) would not be embarrassed.
Remember ~ Laughter aids digestion. Food is the way we nourish our bodies. Relationships are how we nourish our soul. Keep mealtime conversation and interactions as pleasant as possible. Enjoy the food. Focus on the relationship.
Want more practical tips and techniques? My next workshop starts May 24, 2011. Get the details and register on my Upcoming Workshops page.