"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."
Pairing great food with great discussion is somewhat of a dying art on the home front. But here's an argument for bringing back the old-fashioned dinner hour (or 15 minutes) table talk to your family's routine: A little bit of effort can go a long way in shaping your kids' mindsets and preparing them for the bigger world that awaits them once they graduate from high school.
A recent Wall Street Journal article touted the many health benefits of eating dinner with your kids, even if it's only a few times per week and for under 30 minutes. Their research shows that having a few family meals per week can significantly reduce childhood obesity, depression and make your family more connected. I'll take the benefits of family dining a step further: Family meals can be the catalyst for grooming kids to become successful entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, scientists, computer engineers, business executives, artists, educators and whatever else you can imagine assuming the discussion is motivating, positive and enlightening!
You can positively influence your kids by consistently initiating and encouraging stimulating discussions at the dinner table. Don't underestimate the impact these discussions have in shaping your child's intellectual curiosity and their confidence to pursue a career later in life: Lively discussions that allow for everyone in the family to freely voice their opinions develop a host of transferrable skills that are valued by college admissions officers and hiring managers.
Transferrable skills and positive character traits can be learned at YOUR dinner table:
- Empathy: Children learn what they live and if they observe you caring for others (occasionally including people at your table who may be experiencing some personal difficulty may it be a divorce, a family loss, health issue or financial struggle) shows your kids you value helping others. Even discussing topics that show concern for helping others can positively influence your kids to become more caring people.
- Group dynamics at the table require active listening.
- Being heard and affirmed by others builds Self-esteem.
- Explaining your idea for others to understand develops logical reasoning.
- Breaking down a topic to critique another's ideas develops analytic ability.
- Defending your position and taking a clear side develops skills as an influencer that can be used in many fields where team-building, collaborating, and negotiation are needed.
- Discussions on creative problem solving can build entrepreneurial skills and out of the box thinking.
- Discussions about developments in business, medicine, science, technology, philanthropy, art, psychology gives kids an appreciation for the breadth of opportunities to make a difference in society during their life.
On a personal note, most of the professionals, physicians, lawyers, accountants as well as the successful executives I interact with say that they first learned about their field from family members or family friends over many years of exposure to these people and through ongoing discussions they overheard at their dinner tables.
The physicians said that their family discussions at mealtime were about chemistry, science, biology and topics relating to healthcare. At least one of their parents, if not both, talked incessantly and glowingly about this profession and the noble contribution physicians make to society. Their parents frequently expressed their admiration for individual doctors and told stories of the "good old days" in med school and so on.
The same experience holds true for my friends and clients who excel in a wide range of professions and businesses. These friends admitted that as kids they couldn't help from listening while their parents and older siblings related stories and lessons from their workday. As one person said, his decision to become a Rabbi was so easy for him as all the greatness he saw in this role "was in the air and he was breathing it in regularly." Of course there are always exceptions to this rule, but it's clear if the parent expresses pleasure in his/her work, the children will naturally find it more enticing to explore that field when it comes time for them to choose a career.
In our home, while raising my two kids, my husband and I had a few simple rules for dinnertime: We had a firm stance on no technology, t.v. newspapers, magazines, books or answering of the home phone during dinner. These limits helped decrease the distractions at meals so we could have uninterrupted, dynamic conversations on a variety of topics.
Here are a few general topics we focused on to build awareness that you could try out at your table:
- Current Events: Get your kids opinions about what they think about top stories occurring around the world. If they're too young to understand major events, focus in on something they can relate to: Help explain one topic that they can relate to e.g. the President visits school children to improve the nutrition in school lunches. Ask them why this matters. How does this affect them? Do they think their school provides balanced, healthful meals?
- Local events: Can help children understand your connection to your community and to the people who live near you.
- Global events: Shows your interest in the world at large and your concern for the well-being of others you don't know on a personal basis
- Articles about a hero: (local or global) teaches kids what you admire in people. Show them your excitement about hearing of someone who showed empathy, creativity and generosity to help improve the lot of another person by finding a solution to their problem.
- Articles about a person whose unethical behavior tarnished his reputation: Focus on how that person's unethical behavior (greed, dishonesty etc.) ruined his name and led to his failure.
How do you engage younger kids at your dinner table discussion?
Ask your kids questions about what they did at recess, who they played with and who they helped. Prompt questions like 'Did you notice anyone getting bullied today?' 'Did you step in to help?' If your child is reluctant to talk, let them know you're interested in their opinions and feelings and see if they'd prefer to talk with you privately. While the dinner table venue can set the stage for valuable discussions, not everything can be said at these tables.The same is true at work. Sometimes personal, uncomfortable issues need to be handled privately.
How do you get your teens involved in a family discussion?
Ask your kids what they think about these two very different types of personalities, e.g. the generous person/heroin vs. the greedy person. What behaviors do they think showcase a generous person? When have they been generous?
Develop your thoughts beforehand so you can focus on the valuable lesson you'd like them to remember rather than on the gossip about that person or the fame that s/he acquired.
- Ask your kids about a problem they noticed and see if your kids can come up with a solution to it. Praise them publicly (in front of other family and friends at the table) if they come up with a clever solution.
- Share an innovation you thought of.
- Share an interesting story from your work.
- Share an idea that shaped your thinking
- Mention a person you admired for their good works
- Is this gossip?
- Are we focused on ideas?
- Does every person's opinion get equal attention?
- Do you try going around the table so everyone's voice is heard?
- Do you draw out the quieter child?
- Is there collaboration in making family plans?
- Does one person dominate the conversation?
- Do you discuss your own areas of expertise may it be a hobby or profession?
- Are you always negative when you talk about work?
- If so, do you allow your negativity to permeate the table discussion?
- Are you passionate about a certain topic?
- Do you encourage questions?
- Do you allow kids to challenge your ideas or the family's status quo?
So consider using some of this food for thought as a recipe for success in your home. It could result in your raising motivated, intellectually curious, empathetic kids who aspire to make a difference in the world. Bon Appétit!!!