I like the word forge. It’s strong and powerful. In my effort to broaden my vocabulary, I thought it best to look up the definition and make sure I was using the word accurately. The Merriam-Webster definition is, “to make or shape (a metal object) by heating it in a fire or furnace and beating or hammering it.”
Yikes! Not the best definition to use in a parenting article. Fortunately, the secondary definition is “create”. Let’s go with that one!
There are many beautiful things that can be taught and learned around the dinner table. We don’t often think of mealtime as an opportunity to teach social and communication skills, let alone leadership skills. Usually, it is something we try to get through. I would like to challenge you to change your thoughts about mealtimes and start thinking of them as Leadership Training Camps. A place where the forging (creating) of leaders can begin.
The first order of business is in the social skills category. A lot more will be accomplished when the kiddos have their bodies under control and are using their manners. I have found two good starting points:
- Have kids practice sitting or kneeling on their chairs calmly and asking permission before leaving the table.
- Have the kids practice making requests (May I have ______ please) instead of making demands (I want ______).
Of course, we’ve all been there when one silly comment, or an unexpected farting session, can cause the wheels to come off, and complete chaos ensues. Let me share a couple of proactive moves to minimize chaos:
- Have your kids set the table while upbeat music is playing. This is a good way to get some wiggles out while you transition to mealtime.
- Once seated, ask the kids questions that engage their own thoughts, opinions, and creativity. This allows for talking that does not get out of hand. Question examples are: What is your favorite______; Think of something the color ______; or taking turns asking Alexa questions about, well, anything!
The second order of business is communication skills. Learning to wait for your turn to speak and knowing how to ask questions about another person are valuable life skills. I developed the following communication strategy after learning about a tool from GiANT called Be Interested Before Being Interesting. Starting with the youngest child, ask them to share about an event that happened in their day. Then everyone at the table comes up with a question to ask them about that event. With some practice, you will watch your children develop greater emotional intelligence and conversation skills.
In the area of meaningful mealtimes, you’re about to start winning!