Why Ditching Family Dinner Can Make You a Better Parent

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Researchers say the average family spends just over one half an hour (38.5 minutes) per week engaged in meaningful, connected conversation with their kids. I considered researching the number of minutes the average parent spends online, but this article isn’t about guilt, it’s about inspiration.

For decades, I’ve been saturated with the message of the value of sharing family dinner several times per week. And numbers support that message. In fact, children who eat dinner with their family two or more times per week demonstrate fewer depressive symptoms, make better grades, show significantly less chance of smoking, drinking and using drugs.

But can I be real for a minute? Even if we get everyone to the dinner table (which we know with busy after school and work schedules can be extremely challenging), the story can unravel. After the ‘pass the salt’ and ‘he’s looking at me’ comments, the actual time spent in connection and meaningful conversation is just over 10 minutes.

Of course, playing table games and having some table topic question cards available can really improve and facilitate richer conversation. But I would like to propose a radical idea. What if we “took the show on the road”? What if we get all Goldilocks and the three bears and just leave the dinner table behind, in the interest of adventure and magic?? What? You don’t like adventure or magic….well by all means, sit back down! The family dinner table is a fabulous place….But, if you’re up for a little more magic, I would like to introduce you to the idea of the 15 minute family adventure.

The reality is, what is most important for connected families and happier kids is not WHERE these conversations and activities happen….it is THAT they happen.

As an added bonus (as if happier more resilient kids weren’t enough), there is some additional research to consider. Each time a person experiences a new sensation (taste, smell, sight, sound, touch, experience), he grows new dendrites. These dendrites are the tiny but mighty connectors in your brain which help you access all the wealth of information you have stored up there.

Research further suggests that kids who experience true moments of connection and engagement with their parents display far fewer discipline problems and those that are displayed are more easily resolved.

So this week, as you map out your schedule, consider squeezing a couple of 15 minute adventures. You’ll not only be building happier, more resilient kids, you’ll be smashing that 38.5 minute statistic as you build more joy, creativity an adventure into your life and the life of your child. Need more inspiration? Try these ideas:

• Visit a local playground and play hide and seek or make an obstacle course
• Collect the stale bread, chips and cereal at your home and go feed some birds
• Study the night sky and find a constellation
• Write messages to each other on a steamy window or mirror
• Have an indoor picnic
• Turn on some old-school jams and have a dance party
• Cook a favorite family recipe together
• Tell each other your favorite jokes
• Catch a bug in a pickle jar and watch him before letting him go
• Plant a little indoor garden and watch it grow

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