Remember the old shows like the Brady Bunch where dinnertime was an honored tradition. Carol Brady would tell all her kids to be back for dinner as they left on their after school adventures and dad walked in at 6pm sharp – just in time to sit down to a home cooked meal. The conversation was giggly some nights and complete with discipline on other nights. Jan either left crying from the table to her room or enjoying the sparkle that her mouth full of braces had on the camera. Well, few of us live a picture perfect life where dinnertime is etched in stone. In fact, for very busy families, getting a meal together, and having every member of the house sit down to eat all at once – is something that only happens on holidays. However, eating meals together can be a nice tradition to start in your home.
First, let’s cover what family experts say about the manner. Eating meals together is listed on the top ten list of what happy families do. The benefits include increased communication, better school performance for children, healthier eating habits, and healthier child development. For parents of teenagers, studies suggest that families who eat meals together, specifically dinner – have fewer incidences of teen pregnancies and drug use as well. Of course, all this healthy behavior has stipulations. Eating meals together is not just slapping down a pizza at the kitchen table while the family watches their favorite sitcom. Instead, it is sitting down together as a family and revisiting the aged old art of conversation and getting to know each other through nothing more than conversation. Just like with the Brady Bunch, this can be a time to discuss important issues or to laugh about the events of the day. Either way, it is about communicating.
In 1993, Oprah Winfrey challenged 5 families to eat meals together every day for a month. The initial airings of the family sitting together with paper plates seemed like drawn out moments of silent television that was both awkward and painful to watch. The disconnect between the family members was obvious from the fidgeting and lack of eye contact. However, as time went on – the families began talking to one another. First, it was arguments and long-standing resentments that were literally brought to the table. Then however, the shift changed. It was as if the larger issues were finally removed by having a distinct time and place for release –the good things could transition to the service. By the end of the experiment, the families were treasuring the dependability of this meal time ritual. They helped prepare the foods together and it increased the familial involvement just like experts predicted.
The trick in eating meals together is to do it with the cell phone off and the laptop removed from the table. Keep the television off as well. If you take the time to set a nice table, cook healthy foods, and make the mealtime last – the results are the same as when you visit a special restaurant. Since the atmosphere feels special, it becomes special. As parents, you should choose to make this time as enjoyable as possible. Come up with little games, question and answer games and make sure that each person at the table – no matter how old, has equal say and influence. If you are just starting out, prepare for some of the angst and frustration in the household to erupt at first. But once it does, make sure that you as a parent, listen and solve the problems so that you can move passed them.
Eating meals together doesn’t have to be an event that is held at 6pm each and every night. Families today often don’t get home until it is late and there is nothing wrong with being non-traditional when it comes to your meal habits. However, make sure that you do it. If dinner proves a difficult time to get everyone together, then choose breakfast before the day starts. This can be a great way to send your family off for the day with a deep sense of belonging and a strong foundation of family. Eating meals together can provide a time for children to have an outlet for things they want to discuss or disclose to their parents. It takes away the necessity of fitting communication in to the schedule because it means that it is already part of the larger plan.
In 1994, a survey of high school students was performed by Louis Harris and Associates. It consisted of 2000 high school students. The children answered a series of questions and also completed educational assessments. The results concluded that high-schoolers who routinely (3-4 times a week) ate sit down dinners with their entire family experienced better academic success in school. A similar study of elementary students showed that children this age who ate meals together with their family scored at least 50% higher on standardized testing than kids who did not. Part of the reason is because this time lends a trustworthy platform where academic expectations can be discussed. Also, children may be prone to discuss what they have learned that day during school and parents are able to share their own knowledge of the subject providing more depth and interest for the child.
Eating meals together doesn’t have to be a forgotten art of the modern family. If you decide that it is important, then it is definitely something that you should implement. As your children get older, making sure they are home before dinner or not allowed to go out until after dinner can help keep the family unit working towards effective communication. While some days, the family dinner may be stressful – it will always prove to be beneficial when parents and children continue to get to know each other on a deeper level. The goal of family – especially when your children are young is to make your home and your traditions something your child will want to revisit. Even if you aren’t the Brady Bunch - you can make eating meals together part of your life and part of your children’s cherished family traditions.