We all like the idea of sitting down with the family for a leisurely meal and sharing our days with each other but who has the time any more? However, family dinners are not just a nice thing when you have time; they are incredibly beneficial for children’s development and future academic success. No kidding!
I’ve always believed that sitting down as a family to eat daily (or as many times a week as possible) is one of the most valuable activities for children. It turns out family dinner is actually a strong predictor of student success.
It can be challenging with busy schedules and extracurricular activities to find time to sit down and eat dinner together. Yet, sitting down as a family is so important academically for your child and it does not have an equivalent activity that comes close to replicating its value to a child.
When I’m talking about family dinner, I specifically mean a dinner where the family members not only eat together but all technology is put away and the television of OFF. Family dinners are for eating and conversation. The conversation aspect is vital. Meaningful family meals affect all of our senses: smell, taste, touch, hearing, sight. This is powerful stuff—don’t squander this opportunity to have a meaningful and potent affect on your child’s life!
I ate every dinner growing up with my family and my children did the same with their dad and me. I remember that my growing up dinners involved interesting discussions every night. Mom and Dad shared their days with us and exposed us to their world of work and human relations.
When my kids were growing up, we tried to do the same. Everybody was expected to be at the table at dinner time and everyone stayed until “dinner was over.” Learning to sit and converse through an entire meal helps prepare children to confidently relate to adults, bosses, and teachers.
So, I’m sure pretty much everyone reading this acknowledges that family dinners are great in theory. But I doubt many of you know how great and what a huge loss it is to children that don’t experience regular, consistent, meaningful family meals. No other activity or pursuit is quite as much influence. Research consistently shows benefits to sharing meaningful family meals and I definitely think it’s worth making family dinners a priority.
The Benefits of Family Dinner
Family dinners increase children’s vocabulary even more than being read aloud to! And children who share meaningful meals with their family also score better on tests. Eating dinner with the family has been shown to be predictor of student academic success. Just sitting and talking most evenings over dinner, will give your child an advantage in school they can’t quite get any other way.
Communication, year in and year out shows up at the top of the list of qualities that employers want in their employees. Even with all the advances in technology, communication skills are still valued highly in all careers. Making family dinners a priority several nights a week can substantially increase your children’s communication skills.
Children are more likely to develop healthy eating habits. Eating meals at home tends to provide more nutrition, in addition to more relaxed setting. If you feed children a variety of real food they will learn to eat real food.
There also seems to be some correlation between a child’s emotional health and sharing dinner with the family. Some studies indicate less depression and later drug use in children that regularly ate dinner with their families.
Tips for Making the Most of the Meaningful Family Meals
1- Limit all technology. This means no one brings their phone, tablet, or computer to the table. Turn off the television and radio. This is possibly the only time of the day you can come together as a family so be sure and limit distractions.
2- Use this time to connect and catch up with each other. Have everyone share something that happened during their day. Ask questions. Share your day with you children. I can still remember my Dad talking about his work and still remember the names of some of his co-workers. He was a good story teller and we all loved these stories.
3- Aim for a pleasant family dinner. This is not the time to tackle discipline issues. Save lectures and disciplinary action for another time.
4- Do however, encourage good manners. My mom made us keep our elbows off the table, didn’t let us interrupt each other, and would not allow us to sing at the table. (I have no idea why this was a rule—but I can remember her saying, “No singing at the table!”) Maybe once a week, set the table properly so everyone can practice using the right type of fork. It goes without saying, I hope, no bad language or rude gestures.
5- Add fun to the family dinner. One of my children’s favorite family dinner activities was sharing jokes. I am a notoriously bad joke teller but even I would look for jokes so that I would have an occasional one to add. We still laugh about some of the jokes we exchanged back in the day.
6- Encourage open conversation. Let your children express themselves without too much censor. Listen to your child and their ideas. Encourage them to develop their critical thinking by actually letting them think and discuss what they’ve come up with. You have the benefit of years, education, and experience. Guide and support them in their own growth without squelching their unique expression.
7- Try to repeat favorite meals. Not every meal you make will be memorable. But meals can become a tradition that connects your family. For example, my daughter and her husband always serve salmon (the kids’ favorite food) on Mondays. They all look forward to it and I’m sure my granddaughters will always remember those Mondays even though they might not remember each and every meal.
8- Try to cook nutritional food at home. The important thing is to aim for as nutritional as possible and try lots of different foods. Don’t make separate food for individual family members unless it’s medically required. Teach children to eat real food!
Even take-out and eating out can be meaningful if you remember to incorporate the above ideas. In fact, if you’re exhausted, then it sometimes is the perfect solution to allow you to still enjoy a family meal together without the stress of cooking or cleaning up.
There’s so much pressure on parenting that it’s great to know that something so valuable to our children is also something that doesn’t require any special instructions or big expenses. We can give our children an emotional and educational boost simply by sitting down and eating and talking with them every day.
About the Author
Sara is a passionate advocate of nurturing the body, mind, and spirit. She shares her wealth of experience over at her blog My Think Big Life. As a young-at-heart mom and grandmother, she loves spending time with her family — especially around the table.
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Last updated on July 24th, 2016 at 01:59 pm
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