Here are some interesting facts about the importance of family dinner:
– The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children. (A.C. Nielsen Co.)
– Family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of vocabulary of younger children. (Harvard Research, 1996)
– Frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs; with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11 to 18 year olds. (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2014)
– Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders. (University of Minnesota, 2004)
– Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University)
Meal times have been noted as one of the most common times children communicate with their parents, so if possible, guard your mealtimes from outside distractions. Turn off the TV, cell phones and other electronic devices. Ask your children about their day, school, friends, goals, etc. Researchers note that family meals may provide a unique context for parents to connect with and share important information with their children (Musick & Meier).
The routine of family meals can generate feelings of closeness and comfort. Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, take comfort in the fact that the simple act of regular mealtimes may be providing your child with security and stability.
Martha Farrell Erickson from the Children, Youth and Family Consortium at the University of Minnesota offers the following tips:
1. Make dinner a special family time. Try dimming the lights, lighting candles and having a relaxing time together. Or if you prefer, engage young children in a creative theme dinner like a picnic on the living room floor. Use your imagination and choose the approach that suits your family best.
2. Focus on positives. Don’t use mealtime as a time to criticize, complain or argue. Treat each other with respect and affection. Let the little things ride; who cares if junior is wiggly at the table or little sis dribbles her milk? Save the discussions of homework and messy bedrooms for another time.
3. Decide together how you can make high-quality family time a habit. Are there one or two days a week that everyone can commit to eating dinner together? What do you need to clear from your schedule to make that happen? How about planning a family board game or snack before bedtime if you can’t meet for dinner?
Being part of the Salt Lake County Youth Services Prevention Team, we understand the importance of eating together as a family and offer a 10-week program called Strengthening Families where families are provided dinner, in a family group setting, prior to attending individual and group classes. I have observed families as they eat together at our Strengthening Families group and feel it opens the dialogue for the rest of the night. It appears to break down the insecurities of sharing as a group and people feel more comfortable talking about the issues that have brought them to the group in the first place. I have witnessed clients and families at the beginning of group isolate and not share and by graduation are sharing freely and are fully engaged in all group activities. I feel it is important to make meal time together a priority. I know it won’t solve all family issues but feel it is a start and a step in the right direction.
For more information about our Strengthening Families Group, contact Anne Schmidt at 385-468-4528 or Khanh Tong at 385-468-4532.