Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

How to Encourage Your Family at the Dinner Table

  • Chap Bettis
  • Updated Aug 03, 2020
How to Encourage Your Family at the Dinner Table

One Trick to Inject Encouragement into Your Family

Whether in coaching sports or business leadership, the principle is well known that people progress best when leaders encourage more than criticize. We can see this in our homes as well.

However, life can be discouraging for our children. It can seem like we are always correcting them. Things often don’t go their way. In addition, family squabbling between siblings can also deflate the atmosphere in our homes.

What if I told you about one simple trick to change the tone of your house? My wife and and I practiced this consistently around our family dinners, and it often provided a much needed boost.

The Pumpkin or The Red Plate?

As the leaders of our homes, we have the power to make it fundamentally an encouraging place or a discouraging place. In the late 1980s, when I was a computer programmer, our team used a quirky little object as a means of motivation—“The Pumpkin.” This small ceramic pumpkin sat in the cubicle of the last person who had messed up. Even though it was given out in fun, it still sent a message that the team was focused on mistakes. So when a more encouraging manager took over our team, The Pumpkin was the first thing to go in the trash!

Some of us parent with The Pumpkin in mind—primarily thinking about and reminding our children of the day’s failures. While there is certainly a place for correcting the negative, how much better to “catch” our children doing something right? And so our family adopted the tradition of The Red Plate.

Around the time we were raising our children, many families were buying a red plate that had the words printed on it, “You are special."

Liking the idea (but not wanting to spend the money) we bought our own red plate and bowl. The red plate came out at special times to celebrate a family member.

Why is The Red Plate so Powerful?

1. It gives you a way to highlight something that might go unnoticed.
We did use the plate on occasions we all celebrate, like birthdays; but more often we used it to highlight one child who had been especially loving or kind or had studied hard. Rather than rewarding outcomes, we tried to reward godly character. 

2. It contributes a positive tone to your house.
Rather than focusing on correction, it moved our focus to affirmation. We were trying to be a happy family, catching others in the act of doing something right.

3. It teaches your other children to rejoice with those that rejoice.
The Red Plate turned the attention to one special family member and created a sense of family identity. We wanted the other children to have an “All for one and one for all” mentality. The Red Plate was a way to actively train this attitude.

4. It gives direction to your dinner time discussions.
The Red Plate given by Mom allows the whole family to report to Dad what the recipient did. And Dad should be the chief affirmation officer. This gives him a chance for the whole family to hear his praise. (And it is really encouraging when Mom gives it to Dad or Dad gives it to Mom!)

So, if you want to really improve your home team’s success by shifting to a higher encouragement to correction ratio, why not begin with your own red plate tradition and start celebrating each other?

You’ll only be sorry you didn’t start earlier.

Chap Bettis the author of The Disciple-Making Parent: A Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ. He is also a frequent conference speaker and executive director of The Apollos Project, a ministry dedicated to helping families disciple their children. For 25 years previous, he was lead pastor of a New England church plant. You can find him on Twitter or blogging at

Publication date: November 2, 2016

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