Last year, I had the chance to meet Carleton Kendrick, a fellow Bostonian, at the Stouffer’s Let’s Fix Dinner roundtable event. Carleton, a family therapist, is an expert in how to engage your kids at dinner.
This month, I interviewed Carleton about “fixing dinner”, especially for busy parents. Here’s our interview:
1. How can a family with young children (preschool aged) optimize dinner time? What types of discussions are most engaging at this age?
First, recognize that their developmental attention spans and abilities to sit still for a prolonged dinner are considerably less than older kids. Given that, involve them early in the family dinner discussions with specific questions and comments about what happened in their days – Did you and Billy use different colors today on your mural at preschool? Could you run faster in your new sneakers at recess? Grandma was really happy with the flowers you gave her this morning; tell daddy and Colleen (her sister) what grandma said to you when you gave her your flowers.
2. What is the best way to get kids involved in dinner discussion?
One of the best ways to get kids involved in dinner discussions is through the presentation of lively, appealing topics. The following links are to two of my “dinner raps” that provide the scripts for parents and specific questions to ask the kids, questions that draw them into the discussion while valuing their opinions.
3. What can a busy family do if work/school/event schedules get in the way of dinnertime?
First, don’t feel guilty when those absolutely, unavoidable work/school/event schedules prevent you from having a pleasant, relaxed family dinner. We all know there will be such times in the lives of active families. But if your family dinners have become a consistently, rare event, you need to reassess your family’s priorities, goals and values. You need to ask yourself, “How important are regular family dinners and why are they so important, or not?” With your honest answers, you will then succeed at placing regular family dinners in their appropriate place of value in your family.
I’d recommend watching the videos on letsfixdinner.com of the five families I worked with on getting back to the family dinner table on a regular basis. These families were rarely having family dinners together, each family dealing with an assortment of obstacles that were preventing them from sharing regular, frequent family dinners. But they declared that regular family dinners were a top priority for their families, especially because of all benefits regular family dinners give their kids. These families’ stories are compelling and inspiring.
4. What is a good goal for families to strive toward with regards to family dinners?
As I said earlier, first families must acknowledge that regular, frequent family dinners are a top priority in the lives of their families. After that has been established, take realistic, baby steps toward increasing your weekly, number of family dinners. Take the long view and take encouragement in your continuing success at enjoying more, regular family dinners.
Simply focusing on more family dinners cannot be your solitary focus. Family dinners must also become a ritual that all members of your family enjoy. Family dinners must provide family members with affection, encouragement, support, empathy, respect and a safe haven. Family dinners should not be times where parents complain about and negatively criticize their kids…or their spouses.