Almost ten years ago, my family made eating dinner together a priority. My life felt crazy busy at the time as I juggled work, two young children, school, and life. I remember wanting to feel less frazzled. I longed to be more grounded and connected with my family. About that time, I stumbled upon research that shared the benefits of eating together. Studies found that families that eat dinner together several times a week experience the following.
Benefits of Family Dinner
- Better academic performance
- Higher self-esteem
- A greater sense of resilience
- Lower risk of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Lower risk of depression
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
- Lower rates of obesity
So we started. Up until that point, our family dinners were fast and sporadic. The last thing my two toddlers wanted to do was sit down for dinner. But by ages 3 and 5, spending more time at the table was a possibility.
I heard about using “Rose, Bud, Thorn” as a way for families to connect and share. During dinner, everyone shared their “Rose” for the day or something that went well. Their “Bud,” or something they were excited about. And their “Thorn,” a difficult part of their day. My kids enjoyed these interactions, and it gave me a deeper peek into their world.
Soon, we added other topics. One night, I brought four small journals to dinner. With some eye rolls and resistance, we each wrote down something we were grateful for that day. My youngest daughter didn’t feel like writing, so she drew a picture instead.
These gratitude journals are still near our kitchen table today. We pull them out periodically and add to them. My kids love looking back at what they wrote years ago. Writing in these journals seems to shift our focus and remind us of the many good things in our life.
Looking back over the past decade, I see that dinnertime is one of our most meaningful family rituals. Time to stop whatever we are doing and sit down together. Time to listen and learn about each other. Time to connect.
I’ve found that the following ground rules help to set the tone for our dinners:
- Make the dinner table a safe space. Practice respectful listening. Do not make fun of or embarrass anyone about what they share. (This rule has grown into a house rule too.)
- Turn off and put away devices. Make the dinner table a no phone, tablet, or TV zone.
- Make the conversations fun, especially as you get started. (Later, families may delve into more serious topics and discussions.)
- Choosing not to respond is okay. Allow family members just to listen if they prefer not to share.
- To start, introduce just one topic at each dinner. From there, decide what works best for your family.
Here are a few topics that my family discussed over the years. When my kids were younger, we prioritized fun and engaging topics.
Dinner Topics for Families with Young Children
- Rose, Bud, Thorn (Best part of your day? Something you are excited about? Toughest part of your day?)
- An act of kindness, big or small, you noticed or experienced today?
- What are you most grateful for today?
- What is something you are proud of?
Dinner Topics for Families with Tweens and Teens
- What are you most excited about? What are you most nervous about?
- Most interesting part of your day? Most awkward part of your day?
- What inspires you?
- What makes you feel loved?
- Which emotion is most difficult for you to express?
Over the years, I’ve shared many of my family’s dinner conversations. Here are a few of those posts:
- What about our family makes you want to come home?
- What’s on your post-quarantine bucket list?
- How can we make this an awesome summer?
Because of the pandemic and social distancing, my family is spending more time together these days. But our family dinners are still a priority. Over dinner, I’ve learned how difficult the pandemic has been for each of my family members. I’ve come to understand the impact it’s had on my kids’ social and emotional worlds. This knowledge has helped me better support the people I love the most during this stressful time. And helped me stay grounded too.