In the NOW - Mindfulness Activities for Families at Dinnertime
Old habits die hard as they say—and the mind-wandering habit is one of the most difficult to break. Spending more time in the present moment, rather than wasting time in the past or the future, can dramatically improve relationships, productivity, health, and peace of mind. So, breaking the habit of past and future thinking is worth the effort, don’t you think? Better yet, what if the habit hadn’t been formed in the first place?
Children are clean slates, not yet burdened by mistakes that get them stuck in the past or pressures of life that can lead to worry about the future. Before they develop their own bad habits of mind-wandering, practicing mindfulness with your children can help develop their in the NOW thinking early on—What a gift!
A survey of over 2000 people, conducted by Virgin Holidays and Universal Orlando Resort, found that on average, families spend 36 minutes a day in each other’s company, and most, if not all of that time is spent in silence in front of televisions, computers, and phones.
Gone are the days of children working side-by-side with their parents and siblings on the farm, the family porch sits empty, even long car trips have gone from family adventures to the task of travel from one destination to the other, while everyone is entertained on their personal devices.
Family Dinners Rock when you are all present!
Children who regularly have quality family dinners that include healthy food, love, patience, and encouragement are reported to—
- be happier
- be more self-confident
- have stronger vocabularies and higher academic scores
- be healthier and less likely to have weight issues
- have better relationships with their parents and siblings
- have a lower risk of destructive behavior as teenagers—such as smoking, binge drinking, drug use, eating disorders, premature sexual activity, school problems, violence, and lower rates of depression and suicide.
- And… dinnertime is also when children and teenagers say they’re most likely to talk to their parents.
In addition to all of the known benefits of quality family dinners, it’s also the ideal time to practice in the NOW thinking with your children.
How dinnertime comes off is key…
You can sit at the dinner table in silence, or worse yet, the television can be on and everyone has their phone at the ready—right next to their plate—and the family activity can be checking individual phones or devices.
Or, Have Family Dinner Rules… NO phones—NO television—NO headphones!!
So you did it—the table’s set—you’ve made a healthy meal—you’ve managed to get everyone at the table without any personal devices in tow—now what? Here’s 4 mindfulness activities for families to make the most of your mealtime together, while you help your children develop mindful habits.
In the NOW - Gratitude
Because gratitude is such a powerful in the NOW thought, you might want to start every meal with this activity. Simply give everyone the opportunity to share something they’re grateful for in the present moment.
Best In the NOW - Moment
This is similar to the exercise of sharing a best and worst from the day—the twist is that family members share what is the best thing for them in the NOW moment. You might have to guide younger children to choose something that’s in the present, rather than the past or future—this is an opportunity to teach the meaning of past, present, and future.
If you do redirect a child to share something that’s in the present, don’t tell them their initial answer is wrong, say something like, “That’s great, now tell us what is the best thing that you can see, like, or feel Right Here Right Now?”
**Using the phrase Right Here Right Now can help develop a family vocabulary that you all understand and relate to that helps you be in the NOW. The more your family says it out loud to each other, the more you’ll all think it as you go about your day—and the more you think it, the more you’ll keep your thoughts on what’s happening Right Here Right Now.
In the NOW - Questions
This is a fun time of taking turns asking and answering questions. It’s okay if the questions take the answers into the past or the future, the most important thing to practice with this activity is mindful listening, giving whoever is asking or answering the question undivided attention. Remind your children before you begin that it’s important for them to listen very carefully when someone is talking—as you go around the table, you can even ask questions about what the answers have been—this helps develop Mindful Listening Skills.
Each family member, including parents, have a chance to ask a question—It’s good for children to see that it’s not all about them and to see their parents engaged in the activity—once the question is shared, go around the table as each family member answers it.
The question can be something like, “What item in the room do you have a memory about?” Or “If a tiger walked in the room right now, what would you do?” Oftentimes children like thinking of their own questions, but if you find that your family has a difficult time formulating questions, you could prepare a question jar that everyone draws from.
Always make sure that you take the time for everyone to answer each question that’s posed—leaving the table without one or more of your children having the opportunity to share their answer could make them feel left-out and unvalued. If you don’t have time for everyone to ask a question, write down who’s next in line—then, the following meal together, start where you left off.
In the NOW - Sensations
This is good activity to do with younger children that can help them use their senses to notice what they’re feeling, tasting, smelling, and hearing in the present moment. Have them chew a bite of food and, as they do, ask them to think about what they feel, taste, smell, and even hear in their mouth—soft, hard, hot, cold—sour, sweet, salty—crunch, snap, squishy? Once they’re done chewing, you could have them tell you what they noticed, or just let them eat and be present with their senses.
~ Cynthia Cartier