Most American families are as busy as a bee. In fact, the majority of US families say it’s difficult to balance their time between work, family, and leisure. I’m sure you’ve experienced that before, feel that way this week right now, or perhaps relate to that sentiment constantly.
Although time is precious, we value our children and desire to spend time with them, getting to hear about their days and see the world through their eyes. We want to know their struggles and share wise advice. We hope to build a strong relationship of trust and security. And sometimes we just want to be silly together.
That’s why my family (myself, my husband, and our teenage exchange student) make it a priority to eat dinner together every night…or as much as possible.
According to Gallup, roughly half of American families eat dinner together 6-7 nights per week, while 28% manage it 4-5 evenings each week and 21% enjoy dinner as a family 0-3 times per week.
Whether you fall in the majority or the minority, this isn’t a place to feel guilt and shame. I’m here to encourage you to spend quality time with your children over a meal. And here’s my tried-and-true, time-tested, hasn’t-failed-me-yet method of connecting with my family over dinner.
The High-Low Game
Although it’s called a game, this activity is more of a conversation starter. Everyone is seated at the table and will be there for at least 10-20 minutes to eat their food. Each family member is together, seated, and engaging face-to-face with one another. What a perfect opportunity for quality time!
I first learned this game through my young nieces. We were invited to dinner at their house; after we thanked God for our food, they began singing:
High low, high low,
it’s time to play high low.
High low, high low, high low, high low,
High low, it’s time to play high low
(Sung to the tune of Heigh-ho from Snow White)
“Aunt Jana, it’s your turn to go first!” I shared the highlight of my day, which of course was enjoying dinner with my 3 little nieces. And I briefly explained the low of my day, which (if my memory is correct) was having to get my blood drawn for my yearly physical exam. “[Niece], you’re next!”
And so began our first game of High-Low!
How to play High-Low
- Optional: Sing the High-Low song. Young children especially look forward to this part! Older kids may find it a bit cheesy.
- Pick someone to go first. We go in order of age: the youngest person goes first today, and the second youngest person goes first tomorrow, etc. This person shares the best part of their day (high) and the worst part of their day (low). Everyone must listen and respect the person speaking. Asking follow-up questions is encouraged!
- After he/she has finished sharing, this person gets to pick who goes next.
- Go around the table until everyone has shared their high and low from the day.
- You may need to suggest highs and lows for younger children. Even if you have a baby, allow them to “play” high low by offering what may have been the best/worst part of their day. For example, as Mom you may say, “Okay it’s Baby Brian’s turn. Baby Brian, what was the best part of your day? I bet you enjoyed swinging on the swing set! Baby Brian, what was the low from your day? I bet you were sad when you bumped your head on the table this afternoon.”
- Make these conversations an opportunity to build your child’s emotional intelligence. If they share a low about being embarrassed, respond to them by using the word “shame” to relate the situation to shame. Or if they low was about worry, relate it to anxiety, fear, or perfectionism.
- To get the most out of this conversation, turn off the television and remove electronics from the table. Unless there is an emergency, you all should be able to ignore technology for 20 minutes while you experience quality family time.
How the High-Low Game has strengthened my family
It may sound silly that such a simple game could transform a family. But that’s exactly what it has done for us!
It is a method for us to regularly communicate about our day.
It offers an open door to follow up about previous highs, lows, or conversations.
It has taught us what is valuable to our host daughter. She talks about the same few topics almost daily: friendships, grades, and getting involved in extracurricular activities. We now know what’s valuable to her because people value what they talk about most!
It has allowed us to gain trust. When we are vulnerable and sharing the difficulties from our day, we’re building a bond with one another. This has worked not only for our host daughter, but also as host parents. It has even taught our teenager to ask questions (such as, “How was your day today? Better than yesterday?”) as she gains a glimpse into adulthood.
It has been something to look forward to. If the day is long or we feel lonely, we know that we will have a meal together as a family.
It has allowed dinner to be quality time. Some days we all eat together at 6 o’clock. Other nights we wait and eat at 8 o’clock after swim practice just so we can be together. If one of us is missing, the other two people still make it a priority to eat together so we can have quality time.
Need help making dinner a priority?
Try out the High-Low Game this week. What could it hurt? If you’re used to having meals together 7 days a week, or if you’re struggling to have that quality time 3 nights per week – set aside the shame and step into relationships with your kids.
Hopefully these dinner conversations will transform, strength, build and enhance your family, just like it has done for mine!