Dad’s Involvement: Dinnertime and Other Purposeful Investments

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You'd be surprised at how great a difference 20 minutes of family quality time can make in your child! Carey Casey offers advice to make the most of that time.

From saying grace to “May I be excused,” how long is a typical family dinner in your home? Or is it rare for your family to sit down for dinner at all?

You may have heard some of the benefits kids get from family dinners—including better grades, healthier body weight, reduced chance of alcohol, drug and cigarette use, stronger relationships with you, the parent, and better overall mental health.

There’s probably nothing magical about the dinnertime itself. I feel confident that the research about mealtimes reveals a larger commitment by those parents. They are purposeful about investing time in their children, eating meals together is one of many ways they do that, and they are seeing some great benefits because of their overall approach of being highly involved in their kids’ lives.

So, today I’m giving you some ideas and challenges related to eating dinner with your family, because that’s a great place to start. But remember that mealtimes are only part of the picture. It’s that consistent, daily devotion that really makes a difference for your kids.

Last year the Wall Street Journal reported on some research that asked the question, How long do family dinners need to be in order to reap the positive rewards?

That’s a natural question, right? In today’s world, a family can chow down and be on their way to the next activity in ten minutes. And sometimes that’s the only option. But you can see how that might not be that beneficial in terms of the things I mentioned.

But this study found that when family dinner lasts at least 20 minutes, good things start to happen.

Most likely, that amount of time allows families to actually interact about the day’s events and such. Plates are full. There’s a sense of togetherness. Mom and dad take a breath and look around the table. And you’re actually looking your kids in the eye and noticing things about them instead of exchanging text messages.

So, how do you really make the most of it? Here are few ideas from the article:

1. Protect that time. Turn off the TV; make it a no-media zone; no texting or phone calls allowed. If the phone beeps, it can wait; you’re doing something more important. For you, dad, protecting the time might also mean making a bigger effort to get there on time.

2. Get the kids involved in cooking and other preparations.

3. You might also consider serving the meal in courses, even if some are really simple.

4. Direct the conversation. I know a lot of families do the “high-low” game, where everyone tells about the best part of their day and the most challenging part. There are other names and variations of this: “roses and thorns,” “peak, valley and plateau,” and so on. Or, you can have everyone rate their day from 1 to 10 and tell why they gave it that rating.

Those can be helpful routines, and I’d encourage you, dad, to take the conversation a little deeper when possible. That’s when you get into talking about values and life lessons that can be a real benefit to your kids.

One more thing about dinnertime conversations: save more serious discussions about bad grades or bad behavior for a different time. You want your kids to look forward to this time.

All it takes is 20 minutes. Now imagine what could happen in a full half hour!

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