Feeding the Mind & Soul

A local financial services office gets some family-friendly advice on the art of engaging with kids at mealtime.

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  • Photographed by
    Shane O’Donnell

When it comes to your family’s financial needs, the team at Running Point Capital Advisors offers expertise and personalized service in a complete range of specialties and disciplines—all in one multifamily office. Liz deSousa, a senior financial advisor with Running Point Capital Advisors, has worked in the industry for more than two decades. As the mother of two sons, she is passionate about helping families share financial wisdom with their kids. Here Liz enlists the expertise of independent educational consultant Cindy Muchnick, also a mother, as well as an author and speaker.

Liz DeSousa, CFP, CDFA

My 12-year-old son recently walked up to me while I was working and asked, “What are you doing, Mom?” I told him I was reviewing a client’s tax return—and he asked if he could hire me as his advisor when he gets older! I was thrilled at his request. I am never quite sure if my boys understand what I do or pay attention when I talk to them about finances. 

I explained to my son that I was looking at my client’s tax return because taxes are an important aspect of financial planning. Exceptional financial planning comes from truly knowing clients and their families and integrating all financial disciplines into one comprehensive plan. For clients who have children or grandchildren, that plan might include education and charitable or business succession planning, in addition to tax, estate, investment and asset protection planning. 

As an advisor, I know how important it is to engage children in families’ financial planning. As a mother, I also know how difficult it is to have engaging conversations with our children—especially teens and tweens! 

So let me introduce Cindy Muchnick, who emphasizes the importance of meaningful family conversations in her most recent book, The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World. I asked Cindy to share her thoughts on the importance of family meals as opportunities for engaging with children. 

Cynthia Clumeck Muchnick, MA 

Cynthia Muchnick

“Dinner!” I announce nightly to my two teens. They amble down the stairs to see what I have whipped up. My cooking skills are not the best, but my kids are a hungry and willing audience nonetheless. But in our household, dinner isn’t just about a nutritious meal. Equally important is taking the time to have healthy conversation and nourish our relationships. Leaving our cell phones behind, we gather around the table and the conversations begin. We are each other’s captive audience.

In pre-COVID-19 times, our family dinners looked very different. They were often frantically squeezed in between extracurricular activities, homework, social media distractions, playdates and carpools. But because our kids have been spending more time at home since the start of the pandemic, sharing family meals with them has been easier. 

Research proves that it is healthy—for your mind and body—to share meals together as a family. According to the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, “Adolescents who frequently ate meals with their family and/or parents were less likely to engage in risky behaviors when compared to peers who never or rarely ate meals with their families” (Skeer and Ballard, July 2013). A survey published by The Family Dinner Project shows that about 80% of teenagers would “rather have dinner with their families than by themselves or with friends. And when adolescents are asked to list their favorite activities, family dinner ranks high on that list.” 

Parents, take advantage of these moments and use them to engage with your kids any time of day: breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a snack—ideally with at least one parent and as many family members as possible. The goal is to try to share at least five meals a week with your tween or teen to maximize connection and engagement. Here are several tried-and-tested tips for lively, nourishing family mealtime conversation: 

  • Play Rose, Thorn and Bud. Each person goes around the table to share a highlight of the day or something positive that’s happened recently (rose), a lowlight or challenge (thorn) and something they are looking forward to in the near future (bud). 
  • Use Table Topics cards, a question-and-answer book or another similar question game with open-ended topics that all ages can share.
  • Share funny anecdotes or “epic fails” about your day/week. Teens also need to hear that their parents make mistakes, so have some ready! 
  • Share a joke, factoid or news article—although you might want to avoid topics that are too upsetting or controversial. 
  • Plan a dream family activity, outing or trip while you are all sitting around the table. It doesn’t matter if you can take the trip or not. It’s the excitement and joy of dreaming big that counts!
  • Pick a person each week to be the recipient of an “enrichment feast.” We usually do this on birthdays. One person is singled out, and everyone else goes around the table sharing a nice compliment, something they admire about that person, an anecdote or a specific example of something that makes that person feel good. The more specific the better! No generalized “he’s really nice” allowed. 
  • Topics that are off-limits: grades, test scores and personal or constructive criticism. Save those topics for one-on-one conversations, if absolutely necessary. Unless a major intervention or course correction is needed, these types of conversations often do more harm than good. The stress and mistrust they build can wind up counteracting any minor positive that may come from them. 

I hope these ideas help you connect better with your tween and teen. Try implementing any of these suggestions to lead to more fruitful and positive relationships within your family.

Go to parentcompassbook.com or any of these social media sites to learn more:

Instagram: @parentcompass  |  Facebook: TheParentCompass  |  LinkedIn: Cindy Muchnick and Jenn Curtis.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are those of Running Point Capital Advisors, LLC (Running Point) and are subject to change without notice. The opinions referenced are as of the date of publication, may be modified due to changes in the market or economic conditions and may not necessarily come to pass. Forward-looking statements cannot be guaranteed. Running Point is an investment advisor registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about Running Point’s investment advisory services and fees can be found in its Form ADV Part 2, which is available upon request. RP-21-04

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