Inside you’ll read some very important dinner table lessons that have nothing to do with food. Read on to find some great lessons to teach at the table.
With 5 small children, I am at our flipping table all…day…long…
If it was cleaner and gave me a back massage, we’d be best friends. Ha!
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks see us at the table all together. Aside from the nourishment aspect of meals, I’ve realized that there are many things that can be taught and learned at the dinner table, particularly when you have a captive audience ;).
Here’s what we try to instill in our children at the table. We don’t always succeed, but we try try again.
At the table we teach manners. Here are some simple manners that we instill during mealtime:
- Asking for more requires “please” and “thank you.”
- They must ask to get down
- Saying “thank you” the person who prepared the meal is a great lesson to teach at the table
- When my daughter didn’t like part of her dinner she started saying, “I don’t like this dinner, mommy.” This lasted about one Mississippi before we taught a more acceptable phrase. “No, thank you.”
I can’t say my children would make a great impression at a formal dinner with their cutlery skills, but it’s a work in progress.
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Patience is a Lesson to Teach at the Table
Just because one child finishes quickly, doesn’t mean they get to jump up and run around like a wild child. We ask them to wait until everyone is done.
Of course this isn’t enforced 100% because some take a lot longer to eat, but we try to always make each child wait a few minutes longer than necessary.
Why? Torture? Mean mama? Maybe… But, I’ve noticed my children have a lot more patience than I give them credit for.
I’ll not say they sit with their hands in their laps smiling serenely like precious moments angels, but they get better with time and with enforced boundaries.
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The Art of Conversation
Boy howdy. While conversations with my 3-year-old and 2-year-old aren’t intellectually stimulating, they are most definitely entertaining.
Mealtime is an opportunity to tap into this great lesson to teach at the table. Ask your children creative questions, and to really get to know them.
I believe this “art of conversation” during mealtime is one that is dying in our society. Kids learn so much about communication skills and conversation habits during dinner with the family.
I keep a few books nearby when things get hairy. I will read question and answer books, a devotion, or something timely for the kids.
This also helps cut back on chaos because the kids will be quiet and listen. For a time.
They learn listening and question asking skills, as well as learning how to pay attention when someone is speaking. I don’t think active listening is an innate skill. If it is, I sure didn’t pass it down to my darlings.
Pull out these fun connecting questions to share some laughs with your precious ones!
Use them at:
- meal times
- car rides
- as a “calm down” trick
- for dinner time conversation
- or any time the day is getting chaotic or
- you need a reset to connect.
Food… where it’s from, how to get it, why it matters
I had a funny conversation once where I was explaining growing food to my little one. Then he said, “But food comes from the grocery store!”
Yes. Yes it does, after it comes from the ground or off a tree.
Mealtime is an opportunity to explain to kids how food is grown, how it helps our bodies, and about health in general. Instead of just cooking well then gobbling it all up, dinner is a great opportunity to talk about food in a much more well rounded way.
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The Importance of Togetherness
An important aspect of family life is spending time with one another.
The fact that people say their friends and church family are “family” is testament to the fact that we consider those closest to us in life part of our family.
It’s not always possible to eat together, but it is an opportunity to make memories and bond without having to add anything extra into the day.
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You already need to eat, so why not eat together? I’ve read time and time again of adults who say that dinner times with family are some of the memories the hold dearest.
Dinner times together are backed by research as some of the most important formative experiences for children. The food’s already made, so that stress is over, and I can just concentrate on getting to know my darlings.
Instead of thinking about mealtime as it as a bother (which, if we’re honest, it can be) let’s start to think of it as an opportunity… an opportunity to teach lessons at the table.
We’ve had our daughter stay at the table until we are all done and it actually helps her eat better too! However, her younger brother is just starting solids, and it usually doesn’t work out to feed him before supper because I’m busy preparing it or after supper because I want him to nurse well at bedtime. That means he eats when we do and it seems extreme to expect her to wait for me to eat since I’m also feeding the baby. What do you during this stage before they start feeding themselves?
Rachel Norman says
Jessie, I’m right there with you. I don’t make them wait until the youngest baby is finished, just the adults! That would be a long torturous mealtime. Ha :)
I also require my kids to clean up during/ after a meal, they put away their plates and cups or other little things. They can’t do it all for now but i’m trying to teach them to ask if there’s anything they can do to help before leaving the room ( though sometimes actually leaving the room IS help ! ;) )
As for conversation, we are big fans of “what was your best moment today ?”
Rachel Norman says
I like that question, that is such a good open ended one. Yes, those are good lessons too, helping out and contributing. And you are too right that sometimes leaving is the help. Ha.
We have a little book of Grace,and the children take it in turns to choose and then read out their choice of Grace before each meal. I love this little family tradition as I believe it teaches my children a little patience as they have to wait till we are all sitting down before Grace is said, to be thankful for what we have, and to take turns!
Rachel Norman says
What a great idea, Kirsty. What’s the name of the book?
I am a total proponent of the family table, and thank you for your timely post. I am teaching etiquette classes to elementary kids and will use your thoughts to encourage parents to spend family table time instead of sitting in front of the tv. There is a fun game called the Dinner Game that can be purchased at Barnes and Noble. My grandchildren always ask to play it when they come over. It is all conversational.
Rachel Norman says
What a great idea for a game! I bet they love dinner at your house :)