The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

September 13, 2012

Meaningful meals: Family time during dinner takes work for good connections

JOPLIN, Mo. — It’s one thing to have a regular mealtime, but making the most of that time takes effort.     

Making time to sit together as a family and share a meal is important in terms of connecting, said Deanna Street, a family counselor. That time together allows parents and kids to hear about each other’s day and what’s going on with life in general.

This time together as a family is a commitment, which cannot be forced, she said.

“It sets that message and that tone that family is important,” Street said. “Just because you’re together doesn’t mean you’re connecting.”

Amicable atmosphere

As children grow into teenagers, most become moodier and parents are forced to deal with the awkward silence that fills the air between them at the table.

But before considering conversation starters at the dinner table, families need to examine their environment first, she said. Parents set the direction and tone of family time by answering questions such as:

  • Do you put your phones away?
  • Is the TV on?
  • Are people getting up to answer the phone?

Once families figure out the atmosphere for their time together at the table, parents can then work through how to make that time together meaningful, she said.  

Parents may want to do or say something, but find themselves unsure of themselves or often don’t know how to talk with their teenagers.

“With teenagers, they knew how to connect when they were little and were easier to entertain,” she said.

Street suggests asking open-ended questions, which can make conversation flow much easier. Parents can make mental notes of what their kids are working through, such as studying for upcoming tests.

“Was (the test) harder than you thought?” and “How does it feel to be a senior this year?” are examples of open-ended questions parents can keep in mind for those awkward dinner time moments.

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