You work all day in the kitchen to whip up a gourmet dinner for your family. You are excited. They will surely love it. You envision everyone sitting around the time, chatting and laughing, as the clank of dishes and bowls being passed around the table fills the air. It's something out of a sitcom.
Then, reality sets in and your dream of the perfect family dinner fades into the distance as your delicious meal is only greeted with silence and one word answers. Your kids sneak glances at their phones and scarf down their food in a rush to hole themselves up in their rooms for the rest of the evening. Even your husband slyly manages to turn on the TV.
If this is you or eerily similar, you might feel defeated and teetering on the brink of canceling family dinners from now on. I mean, why not? Everything else is canceled nowadays anyway.
But stop, take a deep breath, and read on.
Research has shown that family dinners are crucial to your children.
They decrease stress, open up communication, build self-esteem, and promote good eating habits.
Family dinners are some of my most fond memories of my childhood. Growing up, my parents made sure we had dinner together almost every night of the week, and on Sundays we all went over to my grandparents for a large family dinner with my cousins, aunts, and uncles. The values of those dinner times are still instilled into me to this day.
But I get it? With all the distractions and entertainment readily available at our fingertips, family dinners are dull in comparison.
However, I have 8 ideas to increase engagement on how to have lively conversations with your kids at family meals. These tips especially ring true for your older kids (preteens and teens). Trust me. I teach high school students.
For tips on eating with toddlers, click here.
1. Do a Draft
I first heard of these drafts on the Bobby Bones Show. They are wildly entertaining. I have done it with friends, family, and my high school students. The verdict? They love it and have fun. No one was on his phone.
How to play?
Pro Tip: Announce the topic for the draft the night before, so everyone has all day to think about it. This will get the game moving faster.
This game is a great warm-up at the beginning of class. Instead of asking "How are you doing," and hearing a mumbled response of the trite answer, "Good," I ask a more specific question.
"What was a high or best of your weekend? And what was a low or worst of your weekend."
Parents at family dinner time can adapt this to be the best or worst of the day. Everyone takes turns going. Expand upon responses.
I think you'll be surprised at the different types of responses and openness you'll get just by rephrasing "How was your day" to this new question.
3. Would You Rather
I never tire of Would You Rathers. I always think they are hilarious or thought-provoking. Teenagers, from my experience, typically agree.
Browse the internet for a premade list and go to town firing these off. Allow time for your family to expand on their responses about why they chose their answers. Hopefully, you'll gain some insights into your children's thoughts and behaviors.
Pro Tip: Debate this one - Would you rather get a million dollars with the one stipulation that for the rest of your life you will always get red lights or not get a million dollars but always have green lights?
For me? I choose the green lights. Time is money!
4. Easy Trivia
Another Bobby Bones game, easy trivia is sure to get a few laughs and awaken everyone's inner competitiveness.
Again, the internet is the place to go to print off some questions. Go around the table and ask away. If you get it wrong, you're out. Keep score. First one to five is the ultimate winner and gets a prize. New pair of shoes perhaps?
5. Humans of New York
One of my favorite sites is Humans of New York. The stories are generally uplifting, thought provoking, and very interesting. The photographer and writer, Brandon, really capture the essence of the diversity of the human spirit.
Pick one of these stories and read it during family dinner. Discuss it afterwards. Everyone can take a turn picking a story from the website and being the reader.
Pro tip: The inner teacher in me also suggests that you should prepare a couple of discussion questions to get the conversation rolling.
6. Read a Book
In similar fashion, pick a book to read to the family. My dad did this when I was a teenager, and I just remember laughing so hard. My family still quotes a line from the book. "The meatloaf will have to wait."
Pick a high interest-low reading level book for an easy read that flows throughout the meal. I have a complete list found here.
7. Pick a Place to Travel
I'll never forget the educational placemats my parents bought for us growing up. I think they instilled my brother's and my love for geography at such a young age. We had detailed maps of every country.
Buy some of these placemats and have each member of the family pick a place for your next family vacation. Even if you never go on the trip, just planning, dreaming, and talking about a trip can boost happiness. Check out some of my favorite places to travel.
Pro Tip: Close your eyes and hover your finger back and forth over the world map, when someone says, "Stop," place your finger on the first place. That will be your next travel destination. Fingers crossed for New Zealand.
8. Take Quizzes
I love quizzes, even all the cheesy Buzzfeed ones. I have also found that high school kids love them too.
Find a couple of these quizzes and take turns taking them and comparing the results.
Some quizzes to consider:
I hope these suggestions sparked a desire to either start family dinners or ramp them up a notch. Let me know in the comments what ones worked for you or any new ideas you tried with your family!