The 21st century is increasingly fast-paced and hectic. Strangely, an aspect of family life which was once sacred half a century ago has come to be regarded today an old-fashioned impractical luxury; sit-down family dinner.
Parents and children both have crammed social calendars, making it almost impossible to enjoy regular “family dinner.” However, new research indicates that children who enjoy a sit-down family dinner at least four times a week have a lower risk of obesity, fewer eating disorders, fewer drug or alcohol addictions, and even have an increased chance of graduating from high school.
In the past, families used the opportunity of dinnertime to catch up with each other’s lives through conversation. We didn’t have the ever-present distraction of smartphones, tweets or texts. But consider putting them aside, and engage your children in authentic conversation. If you do this you will not only teach them how to listen; you might learn what they really think and feel about current events in the family and the outside world. The research is in. Family dinner teaches valuable interpersonal skills.
It might surprise you to learn that regular family dinner conversations can increase your children’s vocabulary and reading ability. Research shows that these two benefits are enjoyed by all sorts of families, regardless of their income or economic status. Family dinner allows all family member to share news about their day.
Use these tips to encourage conversation:
Research suggests that regular family dinners have a sustained positive impact on human development, impacting positively on motivation, personal identity, and a healthy self-image.
Research also shows that children who enjoy regular family dinners are more likely to comprehend, consider, and comply with parental expectations. The more time a child spends with their family, the less likely they are to engage in anti-social or acting-out behaviors. Regular family dinners protect the mental and social health of children.
They way you consciously eat as a family today will probably be how your grandchildren will tend to eat with their parents tomorrow.
Families that consciously eat together also tend to engage in more mindful meal planning. Research show that families that consciously eat dinner together also tend to drink less soda, and eat less fried food and less processed food. Regular family dinners are also correlated with increased consumption of vegetables, fruits, protein, and calcium. Healthy eating is essential for proper brain and nervous system development. Mindful eating will pay benefits over time, and teach your children healthy habits that they will pass down to future generations.
Having regular family dinner may be an abrupt shift from how your family eats today, but the benefits in emotional, mental and physical health are confirmed by solid research. Why not take a hard look at how your family eats today and ask yourself… Can we do better than this?
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.