Reap the Benefits of Regular Family Mealtime
For many families, this is a busy time of year, settling into new routines and juggling multiple schedules, homework assignments and career demands. To accomplish everything by day’s end, family dinnertime is often sacrificed, and children may end up eating on the go or apart from parents.
While it may be challenging on a regular basis, setting aside time for your family to come together each day may be worth the extra effort and planning, especially for your children’s long-term social and emotional development.
Strengthening family relationships
Various studies indicate that children who participate in family mealtime at least a few times each week develop healthier eating habits, perform better in school and have fewer behavioral problems than children who do not. In addition, families who eat together tend to develop stronger relationships and communicate better.
Family mealtime provides parents and children with regular opportunities to come together, listen to each other, share stories and reflect on experiences. Each family member has a chance to share parts of his or her day, from the best moments to more challenging ones. Sharing and listening to stories helps children learn to put words to their experiences and feelings.
Additional time for support
Five-year-old Mary just started kindergarten. Both of her parents work, and she spends her after-school hours completing homework and attending piano and swimming lessons. Her lessons leave little time for dinner, and Mary often eats on her own before her bath and bedtime routine. Mary has a little time to reflect with one of her parents during story time, but she is usually sleepy then. She has some worries about her new kindergarten class, but doesn’t share most of them.
Jacob is also a 5-year-old kindergartener with an equally busy schedule. However, his parents carve out 20 minutes in the evening when everyone eats dinner together. During this time, everyone talks about his or her day, and Jacob’s parents help him work through things that worry him about his new class. Jacob’s parents revisit certain topics each evening to keep up with how things are going and to provide their son with ongoing opportunities to express his feelings.
While both Mary and Jacob have supportive and attentive parents, Jacob enjoys the added benefit of a special time his family sets aside daily to share and reflect.
Other ways families can come together
If dinnertime is not an ideal, consider setting aside another time of day for your family to come together – perhaps at breakfast or after dinner. For some families, this may only work on certain weekdays or on the weekend.
Whatever your family schedule allows, carving out special time for each other will likely bring your family together in meaningful ways and provide your children with invaluable emotional support as they move through daily challenges.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families.