Over the past 20+ years researchers have confirmed what good parents and co-parents have known for a long time: having a family meal on a regular basis is good for your mental, physical and emotional health. Most recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that we coParents and all parents hope for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem.
Just to be clear, we’re talking about the benefits that come from the daily sit-down ritual, but who’s at the table? There are so many scenarios to play out here; single mom sitting down with kids, single dad sitting down with the kids with his own ritual, extended family and blended family in the mix. Perhaps you are on friendly terms with your co-parent and you’re able to break bread together for the sake of the kids. It’s all good!
While some studies may say regular healthy dinner conversation may be a bigger boost to your child’s vocabulary than reading itself, it also provides countless possibilities to bond with your children share stories about family history, talk through things happening in school in their life and in practice, show them ways to start and maintain healthy conversations. Studies also point toward generally better eating habits through their formative years when kids have regular sit down meals with the family. This should get moms and dads to sit up in their chair and build healthy habits at the kitchen table, whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner.
That said, we have all had ho-hum meals or a day when we don’t have much to share. Or heaven forbid you’re preoccupied with work things or simply exhausted. Here are some great conversation starters for the table:
- Young Ones (2-7 yrs)
- If you were one of the four seasons, which one would you be and why? What color would you be? What animal? ~Or, what animal would I be?!
- Lead this one, talk about something nice you did for someone this week or something that made you feel better. Ask them if they have any examples.
- Talk about favorite friends from children’s book stories. A favorite is Winnie the Pooh and all of his friends. Recount moments of compassion, explaining what it is and why it is important to have.
- Kids (8-11 yrs.)
- Who is the most considerate person you know? Who is the most patient person? Now, who is the funniest?
- If you were given a million dollars to make a movie or game, which would you
- Go around the table, start with yourself and chose your favorite literary character and describe them. See if the others can guess the character.
- If you were a superhero, what would be your secret powers?
- Kids (14-100 yrs)
- Describe your dream adventure. Give details!
- If you had a million
dollars,and had 24 hours to give it away for a good cause (*or causes) where and how would you give it away?
- If you could go back in time (*say 10 years), what would you tell your younger self? What would you tell me?
- If you could travel in the future (*say 10 years), what would you want to ask your future self? What would you want to ask me?
For co-parents with voice assist technology like
If you’re not into having small talk with voice-activated devices consider grabbing a stack of questions from your favorite board games (ex. Trivial Pursuit, Scattagories, Cranium, etc.) and ask each other questions, no board, no dice, no keeping score- just ask each other questions.
You get the idea. They can be fun, sometimes they can be purposeful and involve teaching moments. Another favorite is to share family stories, like how mom and dad met. This may be loaded but it is their Origin story and you should be proud of that. So if you aren’t sure if you co-parent is onboard with a family dinner sit-down ritual, perhaps bring it up.