Our home is always noisy and slightly chaotic, but we really savour and protect our family dinner times. It is such an important time to come together. While everyone may not always be at their best after a long day, we still gather and because of this alone, it is worth it. I am always on the look out for ideas and rituals to enhance our time around the table and a few years ago I bought our Family Celebration Plate. I really could have gotten any old plate that was different from the plain white set we always use but I (being the sentimental sap that I am!) wanted something extra special, maybe even a keepsake, so I had one custom-made after I just could not find one that fit the bill. It became an instant treasure and we now use this plate in two extra special ways…
Firstly, it’s our Celebration Plate. I wanted to create a family tradition of pulling out this lovely plate for times of celebration. Not only for birthdays, but also first days of school, various achievements and milestones, to simply recognise character development, and so on. In our family we love to celebrate each other and this little plate has been a lovely visual way to do that habitually. Whoever is being celebrated gets to eat from this plate during our family dinners, and bask in the glow of adoration from the rest of their family 😉 The kids often remind me to get it out, which is handy!
The second use is as an Appreciation Plate. Now, this idea certainly does not require a fancy dish. If you want to try this, any old plate will do, you just want a plate that looks a bit different to the rest of your dinner plates. I adopted the idea from a dear family whom I stayed with a few times in America, many moons ago when I was single and child free. This family of five are a loving and hospitable clan who gave me many visions of what I hoped my own family life might be like some day (and now here we are – wow!) One family ritual they maintained was using an ‘Appreciation Plate’ most nights at dinner time. This special plate was rotated around the whole family (parents included) and for whoever got the plate each night, the rest of the family would say something they appreciated about that person. Yeah, even as a nineteen year old, my heart just melted into a big old puddle, seeing young siblings saying kind things to each other. I even got to have the plate one night and was so touched by the kind and cute things the kids said!
I tucked that sweet idea away and now here I am, many years later, with kids of my own who are finally old enough to start playing along! While we don’t use the plate every night, I bring it to the table during seasons when I think it could be something helpful for our family dynamic – or just whenever I think of it!
When I consider the skills I want to help develop in my children, one strong theme is to help them be fluent in communicating – fluent in showing appreciation, genuinely building others up, resolving conflict, and sharing authentic feelings. This little nightly dinner ritual is just another tool to help build those skill. As we all know, sibling relationships can be fraught with tension, hurt feelings, and a general wearing down from the nitty gritty of daily life together. Through all that, I want my children, our whole family, to still be able to say to each other ‘This is what I appreciate about you. This is what I love about you. This is what I like about you. This is a strength I see in you. I see the good in you.’
Too often these good things can go unsaid, whilst harsh words and criticism seem to flow freely!! I hope that by giving my children plenty of practice now, it may build up their appreciating vocabulary for use in years to come. I want us all to be comfortable speaking this language of encouragement – but it doesn’t always come naturally or without nurturing. If we want tender and uplifting words to roll easily from our tongues, if we don’t want to feel awkward about speaking kindness to those we love the most, it takes practice and modelling. And not only between siblings! I want my children to learn to show appreciation for their dear ol’ parents (we are people too!). I also want to make a regular habit of showing them how much we (their parents) dearly appreciate them. Let’s be honest, it can be easy to forget to encourage amidst the sea of eternal corrections. And hey – the kids even get to see Mummy and Daddy show appreciation to each other! Yeah, it’s a regular ol’ appreciation-fest, I think you get the idea, no need for a Venn diagram, haha!
When we first introduced this new routine to our nightly family dinner table, the kids took it on with relish. For all my grand ideas, of course the kids had some even better ones! After the family went around and said things we appreciated about my middle child and were about to move on, he piped up and said ‘Wait, it’s my turn!!’. Well, I wasn’t sure what he meant but then he proceeded to say something he appreciated – about himself!! LOVE IT. Why not? Why not give them space to stop, reflect and share a strength they can recognise about themselves! (He said he did a good job cleaning up his room that day). The next night, it was my eldest’s turn and she squealed with pleasure when she saw the plate at her place setting. She said she felt so special. After we all said our kind words about her (Eli told her she did a good job cheerfully trying a new dinner she was unsure about – it was so cute!), and it was time for her to do herself, she was like ‘Oh, there’s so many things I like about myself!’ then rattled off four things. Oh, the unabashed self-confidence of children!
Yes, I am a sentimental soul, no doubt! But this little plate has brought such joy to our family, and is creating some precious memories too – layers of kind words to build upon over the years. And more than a mere plate, I am grateful for the blessing of family and thankful for little traditions and rituals that bind us ever closer. When it comes to our family, there is so much to appreciate and celebrate and during the hum drum, exhausting, challenging or just ‘arrgghhh’ kind of days, I don’t want any of us to forget that. We are richly blessed to have one another – and it never hurts to say it.
About Kate: Kate blogs at Living Loving Laughing in the evenings after her three cherubs are finally tucked into bed! She writes about family, favourite finds, fun things to do, food and faith… while dabbling in fauxtography. Kate tries to savour the small everyday joys in the midst of the heavy work of parenting through the early years, tries to be intentional in her (still often-flawed!) parenting and aims to create a positive online space to inspire other mothers. Feel free to come hang out and be encouraged: Living Loving Laughing Facebook page, Instagram and Pinterest.
For more from Kate, check out How to Deal With Tattling.