There’s a lot of talk about the benefits of family dinners, but what exactly are those benefits?
Many studies have linked family dinners with a wide-range of benefits, including lower rates of obesity, better academic performance, and even increased resilience against bullying. Dinnertime is also a perfect opportunity to catch up with your kids and talk over the day, and get closer to each other as you strengthen your relationship. Unwinding over a meal after a busy day at work and at school is a perfect time to allow kids to talk about what’s on their minds.
When you consider how many positive outcomes are associated with something as ordinary as having dinner with your kids, it becomes clear that this seemingly simple activity is one of the most important things families can do together.
Here are just some of the many ways regular family dinners can have a positive effect on your child’s development and behavior:
1. Better health and nutrition
Research has shown that when kids regularly eat dinner with their families, they will be more likely to have healthy eating habits and less likely to be obese.
Kids whose parents eat dinner with them regularly have these traits:
- Are less likely to be overweight
- Tend to eat more healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits and drink less soda
- Are more likely to continue to eat a healthier diet when they grow up and make their own choices
2. Strong mental, social, and emotional skills
Studies have shown that kids who regularly eat dinner with parents experience psychological and emotional benefits such as:
- Higher self-esteem and resilience
- More positive family interactions
- Lower rates of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Lower rates of depression
- Better body image and reduced risk of developing an eating disorder
- Better social and emotional health (One study found that kids who have regular family routines such as eating dinner, reading, or playing together are more likely to have empathy, understand emotions, and form positive relationships with others, among other social and emotional health factors.)
3. Better performance in school and better behavior
Kids who eat with their parents regularly have been shown to perform better academically. Specifically, kids who regularly ate family dinners had the following traits:
- Higher grades
- Reduced risk for delinquency
- Ability to have complex conversations
- Stronger vocabulary skills and higher reading scores
While nothing we do as parents can guarantee that our kids will turn out to be happy, healthy, kind, and well-adjusted individuals, it’s clear that making family dinners a regular part of our daily schedules is a great way to boost kids’ chances of being healthier physically, mentally, and even emotionally.
Getting the entire family together for dinner may be a challenge, but it’s worth pursuing, experts say.
For parents, back-to-school means many things, including the desire to find out from your child how their first day of school was. Here are a few tips from the Family Dinner Project that will help you find out more about your child’s day (or whatever information you’re trying to pull out of them). Only you know your child well enough to predict which, if any, of these approaches may help you and your child have more after school conversation.
- A hungry child is often a silent child. If he’s running on empty, it’s hard to summon the energy to tell stories about school. It may be best to hold all questions until he’s sitting down with a snack.
- As your day rolls along, try collecting small stories that may interest or amuse your children, like something mischievous the dog did during the day, a funny exchange with a neighbor, or your worry about almost running out of gas. Then, when you reunite with your child, start with a story of your own. This kind of modeling often helps get the ball rolling, and means that you are offering something before asking for something.
- Keep a “map” in your head of what you know about your child’s day-to-day world, and ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention. After all, there’s nothing more maddening than answering the same question every day. Instead, ask a question that starts by showing that the details of your child’s life matter enough for you to have remembered them. For example, “I know that today was your first music class, what was it like?” Or, “ Did you have a chance to play tag again at recess, like you did yesterday? Whom did you play with today?”
- Or, take a break from asking questions, and instead wonder out loud about parts of your child’s day without asking anything. “At noon today I was thinking about you because I knew you were taking your first test, and I was hoping that all the studying you did last night made you feel confident.” Then, just be quiet, and see if your child adds on to what you’ve started.
- Ask some questions that only require one-word answers, but not necessarily just yes or no. For example, “What did you like better today, math or reading?” “Who was most fun to play with today? And then who?” Sometimes, kids realize that they are offering information anyway, and decide to fill in more of the details.
Check out the Family Dinner Project for additional tips on how to engage your children in meaningful conversation at dinner and throughout the day.
Are you or your child constantly on your cell phones? Take your ipad to the beach on vacation? Ever find it hard to get through a conversation without posting an update to Facebook? Is your computer always on? Find it difficult to engage with your child because they’re always in front of a screen?
We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create.
If you recognize that in yourself – or your friends, families or colleagues— join us for the National Day of Unplugging, sign the Unplug pledge and start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child.
The National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour period – running from sundown to sundown – and starts on the first Friday in March. The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, an adaption of a ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.
Contact Dina Mann (email@example.com), National Marketing and Outreach Manager, Reboot