Food for thought: how to make family dinners something everyone looks forward to (even your teen!)

Most of us have heard experts say that it’s important for families to have dinner together. But what can you do if your dinners end up like the ones many parents of teens with ADHD tell me about–where it’s like pulling teeth to get everyone together and then inevitably an argument breaks out and/or someone ends up leaving the table in a huff? (And pretty soon, no one wants to show up anymore.)

I can definitely relate!

At my previous job, my boss required all of us on the team to have lunch together. Every day, we counselors, assistant principals, school psychologist etc. had to all sit in the break room together with our lunches and while we ate, we had to go around the table and each talk about our student caseload for the day. In response to just about everything that anyone said, the boss/Principal would interject, usually negatively e.g., pointing out something that was done wrong, or at least not the way she would’ve done it.

You know what the one thing was that most of us got out of those lunches? Indigestion!!

Not only did I start to dread those lunches, but eventually I started to dread my job in general. Luckily I hung in there because it wasn’t long before I had a new Principal. He also wanted us all to eat lunch together but he had one rule: “NO WORK-TALK DURING LUNCH”. All of the sudden lunch became fun again! We talked about movies and weekend plans and silly things—and if anyone left lunch with a stomach ache, it was because of laughing so hard!

So let me ask you this: what kind of family dinners are you having? Are you more like my first Principal—using the time to drill your kids about their days (“How was school? Did you get that test back? When is that report due? Do you have homework?”), and to jump in and offer your input/suggestions/advice when they answer?

Or is dinnertime a time for eating, laughing, connecting and relaxing?

If you are leaning a little too much toward the first example, the good news is that it’s not too late to change! Starting today, why not put in place a new, “NO WORK-TALK DURING DINNER” rule (with “work” being defined as anything related to school that has a nagging/checking up on quality to it—grades, homework, due dates, etc.) and instead have a relaxing but fun Round Table discussion (like the knights and King Arthur used to do!) I did this when my sons were younger and it was awesome!

(And for all you yeah-but-ers out there (as in “Yeah, but isn’t school important? Yeah, but shouldn’t I be interested in what is going on with school?”), let me say this: There is certainly a time and place for that kind of discussion; but the dinner table is not that time and place.)

Instead of a time that everyone dreads, these Round Table discussions make dinnertime a time everyone looks forward to! (And the beauty of this is that everyone (including you!) will start to think about dinnertime and what they’re going to talk about a lot during the day! Imagine that: your teen looking forward to sitting down with you for 30-ish minutes without friends or devices!

Something to try: Relaxing Round Tables

Here are some ground rules I used to have at the “Round Tables” in my house:

  1. No devices of any kind at the table. No TV on (except background music is ok).
  2. Everyone (including adults!) gets a turn.
  3. While one person takes a turn, everyone else gives that person undivided attention;
  4. Any/all feedback must be positive: you can listen, laugh, clap, etc. in response to someone’s answers…but NO advice-giving, NO interruption, NO “shouldas” as in “oh, you shoulda done ____”, and NO negativity.

The method (i.e., what to talk about):

(NOTE: some people put different questions in a jar to pull out; others put them on cards. The way you do it isn’t that important. What’s most important (I think) is to have the same questions to choose from every day so that your kids know what they might have to answer at some point–and can be planning and storing up things to say all through the day. For example, if I know I might have to report something funny that happened, I will tend to look for funny things to talk about all throughout my day.)

Here are some questions I used to use with my sons:

  • What is the funniest thing that happened today (to you or someone else)?
  • What the most embarrassing thing that happened today?
  • Describe a random act of kindness you did for someone.
  • Describe something amazing that you saw or heard about today.
  • What is the biggest lesson you learned today?
  • On a scale of 1-10, what score would you give today–and why?
  • Tell a joke you heard today!
  • What are three words you would use to describe your day (and why?)
  • What is one thing you would go back and change about your day?

 

The benefits will extend far beyond dinnertime!

I believe that one of the most important things you should focus on in your home, especially if your teen has ADHD, is your relationship with your teen—spending time together, getting to know (and finding things to LIKE not just love about) them, sharing part of yourself so they learn to LIKE and respect you too—it’s like money in the bank when it comes time to helping your teen succeed! Without relationship, all you’ll get is rebellion. On the other hand, with a good, strong, mutually-respectful relationship as your foundation, your teen will be much more likely to come to you and lean on you for help.

I promise that if you spend at least 30 minutes each day talking, laughing and getting to really know what’s in each other’s hearts over dinner, your relationship will improve more than you ever thought possible!

Let me know how it goes! And remember, if you want some help, I’m just a phone call away!