If you’re a parent of teens, I’d like to bet you have this text message pop up on your phone regularly!
Those three words are often the bridge between “work” parent and “home” parent – instantly transporting us from our work setting to rummaging in the kitchen. Sometimes, I’m super proud to reply with a cohesive meal description – in the knowledge that I do, in fact, know what’s for “dins” and it’s already half prepared. Other times...not so much.
Preparing and sharing a meal is a particularly important family activity. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important things a family can do together. Not least because it provides a routine and rhythm to family life; meal times also provide an opportunity to connect, share positives and negatives from the day and strengthen the family sense of togetherness and shared experience. It’s a time when you as a family can use your particular strengths and interests to build on your unique family story.
One of our family’s strengths is humour. We often laugh at the dinner table. A lot! We've come to realise that family meals are best served with a healthy side of “banter” and the teenage years are particularly fertile ground for sparking these conversations. One of my favourites was our middle child’s random question one evening meal: “So, would you rather have hands for feet, or feet for hands?” Imaginative and funny scenarios followed that had us all laughing.
As parents, the most important first step in setting the scene for family meals to be a shared, positive time is to “tune in” to the strengths of your kids. You can ask yourself:
- What are they interested in?
- What do they like to talk about?
- What do they show excitement and energy for?
Asking them to share something important to them and praising their energy and enthusiasm is a good way to show them that you notice and value their interests and strengths. You don’t have to share the interest necessarily (“electronic dance music” might not float your boat) but you will be showing them that you value their whole selves.
Shared meal times are also a good opportunity to talk about the values that are important to you as a family. Maybe kindness is something you particularly value and want to enable in your family on a day to day basis. Some good questions around the dinner table might be:
- How did you show someone kindness today?
- Who showed you kindness today? How did they do this?
- Who could you show kindness to tomorrow? How could you do this?
- How can you be kind to yourself?
These types of questions give the opportunity for discussion on what kindness is; what it “looks like”, “sounds like” and “feels like” in the day to day world that we live and work in. Giving our children a picture of how kindness might show up for them in their world is a really useful place to start.
So, what’s for dins at our place tonight? Chicken nachos, salad and a well-seasoned bowl of banter!