Today, many families maintain schedules that seem impossible to manage. Mom and dad both may spend most evenings shuttling children in different directions from one activity to another, juggling Little League games, ballet lessons and after-school tutoring. In these families, dinner may frequently come in a paper sack and is routinely hastily eaten en route to the next event of the night.
In other households, demanding work schedules and long hours at the office, or job duties that require days or even weeks of travel, may create hurdles to family togetherness. In these cases, only one member of the family may be segmented from the rest, but the result is the same.
It’s very difficult to make family meal time happen on a regular basis. But despite calendar demands, more homes today are trying to re-establish a tradition that has faltered over passing generations: the nightly family dinner.
Not only is eating together something parents can do to stay connected with their kids and each other, studies link regular family dinners with lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.
Researchers at The Family Dinner Project found that families who eat dinner together five nights a week reap great benefits, but there is no magic number, nor is dinner necessarily better than other meals. This is a case of quality versus quantity.
The quality of family meal time suffers, for example, when the television is the centerpiece of the dining room. Studies found that meals eaten in front of the TV do not carry the same mental health benefits as those eaten “unplugged.” Technology is another culprit of disconnected family dinners. When all members of the family are focused on texting or interacting with social media on their phones, there is little potential for any kind of meaningful family interaction.
Another way to ensure that family dinner time is quality time is to proactively put a stop to bickering before it begins. The dinner table should not be a battlefield. Some families argue about particular topics, such as messy rooms, or grades, or even politics. Agreeing to avoid those topics during dinner will decrease fighting during meal time and open the door to more positive, enjoyable family exchanges. In addition, set agreed-upon ground rules for behavior at the table. For example, agree that each family member has to wait to talk until he or she is holding a particular object, and anyone who raises his or her voice will agree to take a time out and calm down before returning to the table. Adults need to set a good example by trying not to interrupt and by asking questions rather than arguing with something said.
Compass Rose Academy can help your family reclaim the family dinner table – and restore the lines of communication at dinnertime. To learn more, visitwww.compassroseacademy.org.