Moms and dads, do you routinely sit down to family meals? Research suggests doing so may be beneficial, helping bolster kids’ social skills while improving their eating habits. An American Academy of Pediatrics report in the journal Pediatrics noted that regular family meals may help ensure adolescents eat more fruits and veggies, and are associated with a decreased risk of developing eating disorders, particularly for girls.
However, the benefits may be reduced if you give into distracted dining, which you might better understand as constantly checking your mobile device. You must engage with your family during mealtime. It's important to be thoughtful about what you discuss. To make the most of your time together, parenting experts suggest asking the following questions.
What is something interesting, fun or difficult you did today?
While questions you ask will vary depending on your child’s age, this can be a great place to start. Sharing what your child's day was like and what is important to them grows your relationship. For school-age kids, you might also ask, "What was the most interesting thing you learned today?" This will be helpful for understanding what excites your child, where she may need extra opportunities or help, and in fostering love of learning.
Would you like to hear about my day?
While it's great to engage in learning about what your children did, it's also very important you speak up about how your day is going, as well. You can share with them the things you valued, the things that frustrated you, or the things that were interesting and fun. This is important for showing them that not all days are going to be sunshine and rainbows. The table is a safe place to talk about what might not have been so great and share those different feelings they are having. Lead by example.
What did you learn about in your art, math or science class?
Being specific to a particular class may help you get a better sense of what your child learned versus asking generally about his or her school day. Expect more resistance to this question from adolescents who choose to rebel against school, and more openness from younger kids. Regardless, by using open-ended questions that require your child to provide multi-sentence answers, you will get more information than the general "school was fine."
Do you think math, or any subject, is too easy or too hard?
Many kids who are struggling in class will be afraid to say something to the teacher or their parents, because they are harboring shame and embarrassment. This open-ended question helps you identify what your child may need more help with. Furthermore, those that are excelling too much in class might find themselves bored and unchallenged. In these situations, you can find more work that might give them the spark to want to learn more again.
Do you feel full?
Healthy habits for your children start with you. For very young kids, you might consider asking: “What does your tummy tell you? Is your tummy still hungry or happy?” Not every piece of dinner table conversation needs to be high-minded. Kids and adults can benefit from paying attention to internal cues, like the feeling of hunger, and mindful eating. Talking about hunger, fullness and satisfaction helps children become aware of their appetite, which is important for long-term health.
Do you have any questions about what is going on in the world?
You might think this is only for the teenagers in your life, but you would be surprised how much young kids pick up on as well. In this very connected, politically charged modern society, both kids and adolescents are often bombarded with more information than they can handle. This can cause anxiety, and may ultimately lead to concerns or questions they might not feel comfortable asking. Don't be afraid to bring up something big they may have saw on TV, and how it affects them personally.
Who did you sit with at lunch?
It is important to be engaged in your child's friend circle. They may have lost a friend recently over a small tiff and you don't even know it. This question lets you identify if your child is flourishing socially at school. Talking about the social environment and understanding and helping with potential social pitfalls is important. This is where you may hear about bullying issues, fights, negotiating friendships and friend groups.
What are all the things you’re grateful for today?
Mealtime can be used as an opportunity to talk about ideas, values or principles you believe are important to teach and instill in your kids. This is not the time to lecture, but instead is the time to get curious and share. Along with discussing values your family holds dear, experts say teaching children how to express gratitude is important for their development and overall well-being. Research also links feeling grateful — and being able to express gratitude — with improved relationships and happiness.
It’s important that you create a relationship with your children where they feel comfortable talking to you. Sometimes this means asking the questions that require them to really think and answer, instead of the boring “how did your day go?” When you get more specific, you can learn more about your child’s school life, friend circle, and mental and physical health. The kitchen table is the best way to get your family talking, so try some of these questions the next time you all sit down for dinner.