Banning tech at the dinner table? Here’s how to actually communicate with your children

When was the last time you and your children sat through dinner together without looking at your phones?

If the answer isn’t in recent memory, you might want to take the advice of top UK doctors, who have today warned that families should ban phones at the dinner table.

The guidance, which comes from four of the UK’s chief medical officers, advises parents to introduce measures to curb smartphone usage – such as phone-free meals and bedtimes.

It’s a topic that’s becoming more significant as we learn about the effects of social media on young people. Recently, restaurant chain Frankie & Benny’s announced it was offering free kids’ meals to parents who surrender their mobiles at the door, and Cambridge Dictionary revealed ‘nomophobia’ as the Word of 2018 – the feeling of anxiety and stress when you’re separated from your phone.

As a parent, getting dinner on the table is often the easy part – encouraging kids to put down their tech and talk? Less so. But good family relationships are built on communication, and everyone can emotionally benefit from some time away from the incessant pinging of Instagram notifications.

Here, we’ve put together some handy tips on getting the conversation flowing…

1. Think of some conversation starters

‘What did you do today?’ followed by the reply, ‘Nothing,’ is a pretty common exchange between parents and kids. If you’re struggling to get children to open up, prepare some topics of conversation that require more than a one-word answers.

Some good ideas are: ‘If you could only eat one food forever, what would it be and why?’; ‘What’s the most interesting thing you learned at school today?’; ‘If you could have dinner with any actor or singer, who would it be and why?’

Getting a healthy debate running across the dinner table is a great way for all of the family to get chatting, away from the distractions of phones and tablets.

2. Avoid nagging

Don’t use the opportunity for a phone-free hour to berate your kids for the dishes they left in their rooms or the results they didn’t get at school. There’ll be other times to pull them up on missed chores.

When it comes to the dinner table, try to keep the conversation light and funny – otherwise they’ll start to dread spending mealtimes with you.

3. Use the dinner table as time to really listen

Most of the time, kids want to be heard, and it may be that they’re looking for an opportunity to open up about what’s bothering them.

Try to be non-judgemental about their problems (however trivial they may seem to you), and encourage communication with comments and open-ended questions like, ‘really?’ and ‘how does that make you feel?’

Be supportive, let them know that you understand and sit with their feelings a bit. Don’t immediately wade in with your parental advice – often, kids just want to get their thoughts out in the open.

4. Be creative with your cooking

Introducing new styles of cooking and types of foods into the family is a great conversation starter.

Whether it’s a bowl of rambutan or a side of cardoon, bringing unusual fruits and veggies to the table is also a good way to chat to kids about the importance of nutrition and looking after their bodies.

5. Tune into what their body language is telling you

Even the closest families sometimes need time alone to think and reflect. There may be days where your kids are in a bad mood or don’t feel like talking; this is completely natural from time to time.

Asking kids directly if something is wrong is fine, but don’t push it – respect their boundaries and let them know that your door is always open if they do want to talk.

6. Learn about their interests

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A great way to get kids away from their phones is to chat to them about the things they’re genuinely interested in. Sure, you might have absolutely no patience for the new Ariana Grande record, but taking the time to learn about it means you’re better able to speak to your children about the things they love.

Respect their differing opinions too – your kids might not have the same taste in books, music or art as you – but why should they? Getting kids talking about their interests is a great way to broaden your horizons and understand them better as the unique individuals they are.

7. Model and expect good manners

If you’re expecting your kids to down tools, don’t then sit through dinner glued to your own WhatsApp conversations. Get everyone to drop their phones into a basket before heading to the table, and don’t mention tech again throughout the meal.

Before you know it, you’ll start to look forward to some family time away from the distractions of the outside world, and with a few of these tips, dinnertime can become a cherished ritual that everyone enjoys.

- Press Association


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