Who can imagine the family meeting at the dinner table seven nights a week, everyone wound down from school or work and eager to enjoy a well balanced meal and good conversation?
We all know there seems to be a mountain of obstacles in front of the “family dinner.” Most families in America are challenged with schedules, energy and creativity to put together the meal, different likes and a greater likelihood that children will protest and a parent will acquiesce to the child’s wishes for a different meal. Many families are challenged by a food budget. There are often issues with siblings pestering each other (and their parents) and even many parents who are struggling with marital issues. Single parents, or families where a spouse often misses the meal because of working overtime face challenges of feeling overwhelmed and even lonely having to provide for the meal AND the atmosphere.
Consider these reasons as motivators for taking your family dinners to the next level!
1. Family dinners provide a chance for children to learn about social interaction, manners and vocabulary.
2. Family dinners are tied to a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs, as well as a lower rate of depression in youth.
3. Children who experience family dinners regularly get better grades. AND, children who get better grades are less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
4. Eating disorders are less frequent in families where the family meal is characterized by a good atmosphere.
5. Children who eat family meals eat healthier meals and are less likely to be overweight.
6. Siblings will get along better and love each other more.
7. At the dinner table, children are more likely to spontaneously discuss interactions and topics that they experienced in school, whereas, when parents ask their child after school, “how was school?” they tend to just say, “Fine.”
Family Dinner Night Tips
Look at your schedule and set a realistic goal for how many or which nights will be special FDNs. Try to have at least 2 set nights that are really etched in stone. In our house, Sunday and Wednesday are the only choices for everyone to be present and for there not to be a rush.
The Yum Factor
Try to plan meals on those nights that everyone likes, or at least everyone likes 80% of the meal. No separate meals. Dessert too! Children like food better when they have had a hand in preparing. Involve them in some way if possible. It’s a good idea to plan ahead so that the primary prepper doesn’t have to become all stressed out about what to prepare.
The Fun Factor
Good digestion happens with good feelings. Save the serious talk with “Junior” about his behavior for another time. Try your best to set the difficulties to the side during the meal. Parents set the tone for the children. Leave your worries and your electronic devices aside, and definitely, no TV. Think, “good conversation, pleasant topics, engage everyone at some point and in some way.”
Music - Each family and even each family member may have their own musical interest. If you are going to listen, try to make it something that everyone enjoys, even if it’s not their favorite, and soft enough so conversation isn’t strained.
Table – consider a table cloth on FDN, or maybe different place mats, engage the children in helping with the set up. My daughter likes to make an art project out of it! She makes name cards and likes to bring out the special glasses. Sometimes she writes out the menu on special paper. Special straws for drinks can be fun and even…dare I say, a small soda with a cherry at the bottom. Our rule is that a drink of milk must precede or follow the small soda, and no seconds on the soda, unless of course it’s a holiday, then, maybe.
Candles – Candles get their own spot here! They are really a must. Humans, generally speaking, are mesmerized by a flame. There is much to say about it, but not here. Did you know…children who are exposed to fire in a healthy manner with their families, like campfires, candles at the table, fire pits in the back yard, etc. are less likely to do something dangerous or in secret with fire. Of course, always be safe and teach children how to be safe with and around fire.
Remember, no one is rushing on FDN. Don’t consider the food something to be inhaled and then run off to the next activity! Linger a bit around the table after it is cleared. Engage the children in what you know they like to talk about. Consider using the time to talk about something you might enjoy doing together later in the week. After the meal is a good time to get a little goofy even. Remember, the parents set the tone for the family. Parents know how much winding-up is too much for their children.
And for sure, if you did not have a positive experience with FDN as a child, take charge of it now. Soon, you will find that the family looks forward to FDN! Young children will learn to sit properly at the table for a longer
period, because of what is being modeled for them and because the time is enjoyable. They will learn to eat
a wider variety of foods, because they are watching others try new things. They will learn how to behave with good manners. Reap the benefits of the good, old-time family meal!
The family is the child’s laboratory. Teach them well and they will take their lessons to the classroom and the playground, and they will help define our culture as they develop into older children and young adults.
Once “Family Movie Night” is established in your home, the whole family will look forward to this special time! The whole package deal will be so cherished that even on a night when the movie turns out to not be as good as hoped for, or one child has to give in to another child’s choice, these things won’t even matter that much.
ALL family movies should be filtered or pre-reviewed by parents, no matter who recommends it.
Please follow the link at the bottom for tools that are good for filtering and Tracy Lamperti’s “Favorite Family Movie List.”
Schedule the Date
You might want to have a “family night” and rotate movie night, game night, special dinner night…don’t worry so much about frequency. Families can have lots of spontaneous moments of fun, but in establishing traditions, planning is very important, especially for busy families and to help children learn the advantages of thinking ahead.
Make sure you have the movie on hand, that you have looked at reviews, previewed the movie if you feel necessary and have a “plan b” in case you need to abandon the first choice.
Make it Fun
Parents are very busy these days! Try not to convey the message that “Family Movie Night” is a chore.
Establishing FMN can be a bit of work but once your family has all of the rituals down, it will go smoothly.
- Consider ordering or making pizza or something else your family really likes and is easy for you to prepare.
- Bring out the comfy pillows and maybe blankets or sleeping bags.
- Set the lighting for the right mood.
- Boundaries are helpful. Once the movie starts we all settle down and watch. Schedule a potty break or snack/drink refill break. Too many disruptions reduce the fun factor.
Have Good Snacks
Traditional movie theater snacks can be a fun treat for FMN. Cups with covers help to avoid accidents that disrupt the movie and upset everyone. Be careful about sugar so close to bed.
Set a Theme
Take turns deciding who picks the movie or if there will be a special theme, such as holiday or comedy. Some family members are really creative and plan snacks around a theme or
even make crafty movie tickets or funny hats!
Especially for younger children, showering and getting pjs on ahead of time can help to avoid issues like children being too tired to do those things after the movie. It is best to keep it to just washing hands and brushing teeth after the movie. Try not to get started too late.
Turn off your ringer. Shut down your social media. Children are more perceptive than we sometimes think.
They will know if you are not fully present. The kids should put their devices away as well.
A good policy is that on family movie night, the whole family watches the movie. It is just understood that in good faith, a movie will be chosen where there is a reasonable expectation that everyone will get something out of, even if they have to stretch themselves. It is good to bear with one another and participate with one another as a family, because we are a family. The same concept applies for family meals. We work together and give and take when it is or isn’t our favorite. Children feel good about participating even if the movie (or meal) wasn’t their choice. Children learn in families, about taking turns, treating each other nicely and working together. Sometimes they realize they have actually enjoyed the movie, when they assumed they would hate it. But even if not, we are a family and we support each other and enjoy life with each other, even when we aren’t getting our own way. Increase the fun factor of family movie night so that even when it isn’t Johnny’s night to choose, he will want to come because of the other factors.
Uh-oh, that movie wasn’t a good choice.
Yes, we sometimes have regrets after a movie. At times when you feel that you have exposed your child to a theme or experience that was not appropriate and you did not have the wisdom at the time to turn it off, be sure and talk about it afterwards. It is important to tell our children when we have erred in our judgment and exposed them to something that we then regret. There are also times when something may seem harmless at the time and then you see your child playing out a theme that makes you uneasy and you know exactly where they picked it up. Maybe your child is strutting around like a sassy character on a Barbie movie, or maybe having bad dreams. Use this opportunity to connect with your child, guide them and build trust with them. You might think your new sassy Barbie daughter needs scolding, but it actually might be most appropriate, especially if this is a bit out of character or more extreme than usual for your daughter, to have a little motherly sit-down and point some things out. “I notice you’ve had a bit of an unfriendly attitude lately, like when you……………. yesterday. I’m thinking that this is kind of like the attitude of …………on the Barbie movie that you have been watching.” Continue the conversation and try to engage your child in sharing some insight that they might have, now that you have pointed it out. Suggest, “Let’s take a break from Barbie for about a week and see if the friendly you comes right back. “ It is the same thing with nightmares or other behaviors. “I’m noticing that these bad dreams started after you watched that lava scene on Star
Wars. We may have made a mistake watching that scene. Let’s not watch it again for awhile and I think you will start sleeping better pretty quickly.”
“It was fine.”
All too often, I hear parents say,“Yes, they (a 4 year old) watched Indiana Jones. They were fine. It didn’t seem to bother them at all.” Typically, children stare at the the screen. They listen and they watch. An occasional child will hide behind a chair until a scene is over, or cover their eyes or ask a parent to turn it off. But the MOST common occurrence is for children to sit and stare. Some parents will interpret this as everything being fine. It’s better not to bank on that. We have to guide and direct our children and that includes helping to be their filters in the world. There is so much that we don’t have control over, AND there is SO much that we do have control over.
“I’m preparing them for the real world.”
I have also heard many parents say that they have let their children watch movies with profanity or other bad behavior and rationalize it by saying, “but we talked about it and they know we don’t allow that kind of behavior.” Some parents rationalize by saying it was a “good” thing because it provided an opportunity to talk about that kind of behavior and why it is not acceptable. This is also a weak argument that is only possibly strengthened by the type of behavior mentioned vs. the developmental stage of the child and maturity level. Foul language or surly themes in a movie are simply unnecessary, add nothing to the movie and should be filtered out.
“Favorite Family Movie List”
I would love to hear about what your family does to make movie night special!
Post your stories on my fb:
email me firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a note on my “contact” page at www.tracylamperti.com
Children tell me,“We could…go for a family walk, have a family movie night, a family game night would be fun, a ‘special’ dinner night……..doing one of these things once a week would help me. It would help our family.” I invite Mom in, or Mom and Dad, who sincerely want their child to feel better and be happier, and they nod a tentative nod that tells me they are thinking something like, “How can I add one more thing?”
Too often, the child returns to therapy the next week, the family having not done the family activity. Many children are so protective of their parents, and understand how busy their parents are, so they are readily prepared to defend all of the reasons that it was not done. Many children feel that they are either the reason for a problem, or are trying desperately NOT to become the reason for the problem. There are many family scenarios, this just being one.
Is your family having a hard time making a commitment to at least one quality family time per week?
1. With both parents working in many families, or one parent working overtime, it is often hard to find the time.
2. Are you stressed about your job or money, you may be tired, on edge, just need some time to yourself?
3. Is the marriage stressed? Are you trying to avoid family time, because you don’t want to end up in a fight with your wife (husband), especially in front of the children?
4. Siblings who have already decided that their friends are where it’s at, not their siblings.
What are the Benefits of Spending Time Together as a Family?
1. Stronger Family Bonds
2. Greater Academic Success
3. Fewer Behavioral Problems
4. Less Likely to Engage in Violence
5. Lower Risk for Substance Abuse
6. Reduced Risky Sexual Behavior
7. Greater Intimacy Among Parents
8. Siblings Fight Less (get along more!)
9. Family Members Come to Trust Each Other More and Can Count on Each Other More
10. Children Open Up More With Parents and Share More About Their Experiences Outside of the Home.
What Kinds of Activities Constitute Quality Family Time?
1. Family game night
2. Family movie night
3. Easter Egg decorating
4. Special Family dinner night
5. Walk on the beach
6. Game of catch
7. Pumpkin decorating
8. Raking leaves together, and other “chores”
9. Gingerbread house kits
Check out this site for a lot of“frugal” ideas for family time! http://www.frugalcapecod.com/
What are the Guidelines for Quality Family Time?
1. No Skipping - “Family” time means no one skips out. Sure, you can have Mother-daughter (or son) time, or Father- Daughter (or son) time, but family time is everyone. It is in families that children learn about taking turns, treating each other nicely and working together. Sometimes they realize they have actually enjoyed the time together, when they assumed they would not. But even if not, family is family and family supports each other, even when someone isn’t getting their own way.
2. Pre-planning - We want our children to plan well enough that their homework gets done on time, or their chores get done before they are saying goodnight and we are asking, “Did you do your chores?” This is a learned habit and we have to teach them. Talk with everyone early in the week, maybe at dinner about what they would like to do. Teach them how to plan and based on age, work together to make it happen. For example, if it is a Saturday night movie, don’t wait until Saturday morning to try and get a consensus and then assume that you will agree AND you will be able to obtain the movie.
3. Unclutter – Children and parents, make sure your obligations are met so that you won’t be distracted or tempted to say, “Oh, the children look happy and settled with the movie. I’m going to slip away and do some work around the house, or check my social networks”. Be fully present.
4. Capture Memories – Take a picture, even if it is the family lounging in their pjs watching a movie. Talk about the best parts of the time together and what each person might change next time or an idea that was sparked for next time.
5. End Well! – When saying goodnight, tell your children, even if every aspect of the family time didn’t go as well as you hoped, that you are so grateful that you were able to spend the time with them, that you are glad to have him for a son (or her for a daughter). Point out something that they did or said that you took note of. If they struggled with a negative attitude, point something out about how you want to help them work on not always being first, for example, or how you were pleased when they started getting along. Share something similar you might have struggled with as a child. Connect, connect, connect. After all, (s)he will be borrowing your car not long from now :), if they aren’t already.
During the month of November Tracy will provide the “recipe for success” with family game night, dinner night, dessert night (yummy!) and other great ways to bring your family closer together for happier more confident children, a more personal relationship between parents and tips for single parents as well.
Join me in welcoming the newest addition to our Cape Cod Mommies Advisor Team: Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS! We look forward to her blogs and expertise!!!
Tracy holds a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and has a private practice in Orleans. Tracy is committed to helping to strengthen marriages and families who in turn contribute to a healthy and safe community. She provides psychotherapy to all ages, offers educational services such as parenting support, sexual abuse prevention and safety training, and consultation services for tough community issues. Tracy is married with two children and has lived most of her life on Cape Cod.
Tracy Lamperti has always valued prevention of family, personal and social issues and as such, has enhanced the number of professional offerings over the last few years to include a variety of trainings and workshops. These offerings are mostly centered around safety trainings, prevention of crimes against
children and adults, parenting issues and sexual integrity for youth and adults.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
dba Lamperti Counseling & Consultation
57 Route 6A
Orleans, MA 02653
Bachelor of Psychology
Master of Counseling Psychology
Mental Health Counselor, LIC #4195
1996-2002 Massachusetts Licensed Social Worker #3027123
Authorized Facilitator, Darkness to Light, Stewards of Children
Authorized Trainer, National Rifle Association's, Refuse to Be a Victim
Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress
Rape Crisis Counselor
Early Childhood Education
American Association of Christian Counselors
New Life Counseling Ministries
American Association of Experts in Traumatic Stress
Cape Cod Moms