With 3 small children, I am at our flipping dining room table all.day.long. If it was cleaner and gave me a back massage, we’d be best friends. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks see us at the table all s 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. Asking for more requires please and thank you. They must ask to get down and thank the person who prepared the meal. 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.
Just because one child finishes quickly, 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 will do it without complaining.
Related: how to teach patience
3. 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 ask your children creative questions, and to really get to know them. 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. There are many open-ended questions you can ask to get topics flowing.
My husband and I both really dislike wasted food. Of course we don’t force feed our children, but we actively teach them to be thankful for their food, and for the person who prepared it. You may talk about different people in the world who are less fortunate. You can talk about different spices and ingredients used for different ethnic cuisines. Helping children to understand that food doesn’t just grow on trees (oh wait…) will hopefully help them learn to waste not want not.
Related: the problem with leftovers
4. 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. 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.
Although my husband rarely makes it to dinner with the rest of us, I view mealtimes as a great part of the day. 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 it as a bother (which, if we’re honest, it can be) let’s start to think of it as an opportunity!
Do you have any dinner time traditions?
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