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How Do I Have Orderly Meals and Meetings with Young Kids?

Jeremy:
So in the Five Minute Fatherhood Facebook group, we’ve got a question from Daniel. I love how he phrases this. He says, is it too much to ask for an orderly dinner with five children, eight and younger? There is a ton of energy and talking, which is great. But when I attempt to steer the conversation to something productive or educational, I find that I quickly get frustrated at the lack of attention due to everyone eating, serving, passing food, side conversations. I attempt to corral the team, but find it soon returns to chaos. My wife is helpful to a degree, but she feels I’m expecting too much. I find this translates into our family meetings too. I think I’ve had more failures than successes with the weekly family meeting. Many times I get so frustrated that no one seems to be listening or paying attention or that they get bored, that I just end it prematurely in a state of defeat. Am I expecting too much from five kids, eight and under? Jeff, what do you think?

Jeff:
Short answer? I would say yes. I would say yes. But here’s what I’ll say, but no. So I to back up, this one’s… I say yes, because I think, here’s what I’ll say. Strategically as a father, trying to build a family team, one of the most important places and spaces that you can cultivate in your home is the table for formation, discipleship, storytelling, fun, et cetera. But what I would say, so one of the things you really don’t want to do is you don’t want that to be a place that just feels like it’s always hitting a wall. You don’t want that to be a place where the kids start associating that with not enjoyable, not fun, not the kingdom, not partying, not feasting. So honestly, if there’s disobedience there, you got to take care of that.

If there’s all these different things, you’ve got to take care of that. But when you say, everyone eating, serving, passing food, having side conversations, at some level that’s what you want. That’s that’s like 90% of the goal, right? That’s what it is. It’s like you guys… Here’s what I’m trying to say, the magic of the table is that you guys are just together. And it’s a formational moment for your family day in, day out, day in, day out for years. That alone is like 90% of the battle, is we eat together. Literally that’s it. We eat together. That’s powerful. Then to take it to the 10 step, I do think you want to take it the 10% farther of, okay, how do I use this moment now to pontificate, for lack of a better term. To be the patriarch, to lead, to teach, to talk story, to pull strings on my kids’ hearts and listen to them.

So I think you want to cultivate that. But I don’t think… I just wonder if there’s a different way to do it. So a couple of things I thought of when I was reading this is, how can you make it almost so ridiculously silly and fun that they pay attention? I’ve noticed my kids pay attention if I stand up on the table. I notice my kids pay attention if I stand up on my chair. I notice my kids pay attention if I make a stupid trumpet sound with my hand, like do-do-do-do. You want to do that stuff though, because it associates this… And then think in really short bursts, not treatises. When you got five kids under eight, I would say if you can get a solid 45 second silence of listening and you saying a clean little message or reminder, 45 seconds which that’s longer than you think with silence and with kids. And every single day that’s amazing. Right?

So we try to do that at the beginning of the meal. And I think that when you can leverage the food against them of like, hey we’re not touching our food until I have this moment then you’ll probably get obedience. And in that moment, we pray out loud. And one fun thing I’ve been doing with the kids is just, we do repeat after me prayers, always at meals now. And it’s just really easy way to just, hey, we do with our eyes open, I think is a really fun way to say, we’re in this together. We’re looking at each other, we’re declaring this truth over our family.

And it’s just, I make it up on the spot. Like thank you Jesus for today, that you are Lord, you’re good, and they just repeat after me. That’s it. To me that feels rich enough and special enough we’re reminded. Okay now, just eat. And then bring really engaging, fun, stupid games. One really easy game that the kids love is, what would you rather be and why? And we pick between two animals, and then everyone goes next. Would you rather be a zebra or a lion? Why? Would you rather be this or this? Why? And the kids just love it and everyone zones in on it. So I would say if you mix all that in. But Jeremy, what would you say to that question?

Jeremy:
Yeah, I agree a hundred percent. I think you have to keep it fun, keep it light at the table. I definitely think there needs to be a very hard transition from, we’re just having fun, we’re passing stuff, we’re making jokes. You want that to exist, and in order to have this epic moment you want to create, you got to make a very strong transition. So the way we do it in our family is… We do this at Shabbat, we got older kids. But we ding our glass, and a lot of times I’ll stand up it’s a big deal. Because what that says is you have permission to be goofy and have fun during the rest of the meal, but there’s a moment where I need your attention.

Now, if you’re training your kids to pay attention, then when you do that, I would start short. I really like the 45 seconds. And then if you want to get longer than that, you need to do it in increments. You need to slowly increase, and you need to keep that fun and light as well. I had professor once who had these little individually wrapped gummy bears and every time you made a good comment or asked a good question about his lecture, then he would throw you a gummy bear.

Jeff:
I love that.

Jeremy:
We were college students paying $5,000 for this class and we still needed gummy bears to pay attention.

Jeff:
I love that. But it worked.

Jeremy:
A lot of times we just ask too much. Another thing I would say too, one of the things you mentioned Daniel, was in your family meetings. And so I would say family meetings are a huge privilege and a giant rite of passage. You want to start with you and your wife. Then you want to have your oldest child join you. And when the oldest child joins a family meeting, you want it to be like… And sometimes, you probably want to break up into two segments. Even with an eight year old, I would maybe only have him do for the first half or something, but you want to basically train them how to interact in a family meeting setting. And then you talk to the rest of your kids, the other four kids say, hey, someday you too will get to be part of our family meetings. And then make it a huge rite of passage. And look, if they can’t handle it, say hey, it looks like you joined too early.

I can’t wait for you to be ready for this, but we’re going to need to try when you turn 9, or when you turn 10. But you don’t want to create a culture where the younger kids are eroding the experience of the older kids and what they could experience by being a part of adult conversations and adult decisions. So that’s just another tip I would say, is don’t always feel like your three-year-olds have to… If you do everything with the littles present, then it’s going to just tend to degrade everything. And there are just certain environments or things that they’re just not going to be able to hang with.

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