We live in a day and time when parents feel like they run from one thing to the next seeking to give their children every opportunity to experience life to the fullest. Many people say there's nothing wrong with that.
The reality is that children and their parents are experiencing high rates of disconnectedness. They are experiencing a lot of life, but at what cost?
One of the most powerful ways for families to create connection is by sharing regular and meaningful meals together, which offers a variety of benefits. Studies suggest that having meals together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development and has been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse and eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school as well as better family relationships.
Family meals also help to:
- provide a sense of family unity and identity.
- give children an opportunity to express themselves.
- teach kids to wait their turn to speak.
- let them hear many different perspectives.
- show how to agree to disagree on certain topics.
- transmit family values and traditions from one generation to the next
- teach good table manners and etiquette.
The American College of Pediatricians notes that the daily coming together around the family table:
- Provides structure for the day, allowing children to feel more secure and safe by knowing what to expect.
- Helps parents monitor their children’s moods, behavior and activities, giving insight into the emotional well-being of their children.
- Allows children to learn and appreciate social interactions, understand the importance of community and experience different ideas while under the guidance of their parents.
These times together as a family create a bond and shared memories that children carry with them long into adulthood. The key to the success of these gatherings is to make them technology-free zones – no televisions, tablets or cell phones allowed.
You may already know that family meals are a good thing, but maybe you’re just trying to figure out how to make it happen and what to do with the time you have together. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be dinner, it could be breakfast, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. The goal is for everybody to be together and connect. Making the meal could be part of that or you could even grab something and bring it home.
If you are at a loss for how to get the conversation around the table going, here are some suggestions to help you get started:
- Share. Have each person share their best/favorite moment from today or yesterday. Use this time to get updates on each other, friends, co-workers and family.
- Ask. What’s one thing you are excited about that is coming up? Who did you notice today and why did you notice them? Is there anything going on in your life or someone else’s life that we can help with? What is the best meal or dessert you’ve ever had?
- Discuss. If sports are your thing, talk about the latest game or an upcoming championship such as the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup or NBA playoffs. Find ways to talk about things each individual is interested in or would like to learn more about. Maybe it’s that dream vacation or road trip, birthday bash or even how you’d like to spend your time over the weekend.
- Listen. During the conversations, make the effort to listen without interrupting. Whatever you do, don’t ask a question and then hijack the conversation. We can learn a lot when we’re not doing all the talking.
It might seem hard to believe that just having a meal together where you are connecting can be such a huge preventative factor for so many things, but it’s true. The key is to be intentional and keep it simple.
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 9, 2019.