Whew! Well, summer flew by! We had a great time and it’s hard to believe that the school year has started and we now have a middle schooler!
When you think of family dinner time, what is your gut response?
I’m going to admit that 4-6pm tends to be my least patient time of the day–especially in the summer when they’ve been home all day. I’m trying to get dinner ready, fielding “how long ’til we eat?” questions from my starving horde, playing referee between the grouchy hungry ones, . . . . By the time dinner actually rolls around, I just want to get them fed with as little mess as possible and escape the kitchen!
A couple of years ago, I started sitting back and actually listening to what went on at our table, and I realized that we were one LOUD, CHAOTIC family! The boys were talking over each other, getting louder and louder in their competition to be heard, but no one was actually listening! It was deafening and frustrating for all involved. I MAY have been known to raise my voice a time or two (or more) and say (very kindly, mind you) “Everybody, BE QUIET!”
I realized that some of my impatience before dinner was probably coming from my dread of the actual time around the table.
So my husband and I came up with a couple of strategies helped along by our very creative boys. Here are a few of them that have helped to improve the overall climate of our dinner time. We are still loud, but I think we may be SLIGHTLY less chaotic.
First of all we had that talk where we established (again) the expectations of having an actual conversation–you know, where one person talks and everybody else listens, and then another person responds and then another person can insert a comment . . . you know, a conversation. Believe it or not, conversation does not come naturally to a young child because it involves WAITING! For more on that, feel free to browse through a previous post here.
This is a strategy that our boys actually brought home from school. Once you start this game, the goal is not to make a single sound while at the same time you are trying to make everybody else either speak, laugh, snort or make some other noise with their mouth. When a person makes a sound, everybody else points at them while trying not to laugh. You must use this one judiciously so it doesn’t get old, but it is a fun way to calm everybody down when things are in an uproar, when mom has a headache, or just any time you need a break from the noise!
Side benefit: Obviously the silence, but they also learn a little self-control.
This game has been going on for years and I believe it’s a pretty common game, but we recently added a twist . . .
The original game is that the “nerd words” are “it” and “the.” If you say either of those two words you “have the nerd word” or rather “you have ___ nerd word” (because you can’t say “the”) until someone else says one of those words. You can have a lot of fun with this game, but we recently decided to change the nerd word up, so one night we decreed that the nerd word was any word starting with “W.” (“Ha! He said the nerd Word! Oh, Wait! Oh, man!”) Another night it was any word ending in “-ing.” One of the boys tricked another family member (it may or may not have been his mom) to say their full name–yep IrvING. You get the picture.
This game is TONS of fun, provides a lot of laughter, and makes the talk a little sparser because everyone is trying to make sure they don’t say the nerd word!
Side benefits: spelling/sounds for the younger ones and a mentality of “think before you speak.”
“Best thing that happened today”
This question, started by my husband, has become a standard, almost daily, question at our table. In fact, sometimes, if he forgets to ask it, one of our boys will ask it. We will be sitting around our dinner table and at any given moment, my husband will say, “Ethan, best thing that happened today?” IMMEDIATELY everyone NOT named Ethan will raise their hand in the air and say, “Ooh, ooh, me!” but everyone knows that they don’t get to answer the question until they are asked.
We went through one phase with one child who wanted to be negative and say, “Nothing good happened today.” We simply resorted to having him list 3 good things instead of one best thing, and that phase passed pretty quickly!
Side benefits: You develop a spirit of gratitude and positive thinking in your children and you get to know them better by drawing them out and finding out what makes each one of them tick.
Side benefit to all of the above: We now dare go out to eat every once in a while to a sit-down restaurant. I’ve even been known to take all 5 boys out by myself!
If your dinner table time has become something you dread, why don’t you give 1 or 2 (or 4) of these a try and see if it improves your time? Dinner has actually become something I (mostly) look forward to now, and I hope it can for you as well!