This might be one of the simplest ways to improve your child’s life:
Eat meals as a family.
For my family, dinner time has always been the time of day when we all come together. It’s an opportunity for good quality time and deep conversation. When your family sits down to dinner around the same time every night, it creates a routine which involves so much more than simply eating together.
It’s an opportunity to share stories and tell each other about the good things that happened that day, as well as the bad things. It creates a safe space to ask for advice or help. I think modeling this behavior can show our kids that we’re paying attention and that they’re welcome to open up to us. It’s also a time when we pray together and voice concerns, petitions, or thanks.
Countless studies have shown that eating dinner together as a family has huge benefits for children. Here are 4 ways in which eating meals as a family can improve your child’s life:
Your family’s habit of eating dinner together can impact your child’s academic success. Studies have shown that children who eat dinner with their families do better in school. In fact, they’re 40% more likely to earn As and Bs in school and have higher test results. For school-age children, routine dinners together are a more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time they spent in school, doing homework, or participating in extracurricular activities. Dinner time is also an opportunity for parents to praise their children and be intimately aware of how they’re doing in school.
When children are part of the dinner time conversations they are pushed to converse with adults. A study at Harvard’s Graduate School followed 65 families of 15 years and looked at how mealtime conversation impacted children. It was revealed that mealtime conversations teach children more vocabulary than when parents read to them. These conversations played a critical role in language acquisition leading to improved vocabularies and better readers.
Mealtimes can be an opportunity to invite conversation within families. Researchers have found that “participation in dinner table conversations offers children opportunities to acquire vocabulary, practice producing and understanding stories and explanations, acquire general knowledge, and learn how to talk in culturally appropriate ways.” You’re not just eating dinner – you’re socializing and displaying appropriate behavior.
Dinner is the most consistent way for families to connect and talk about their day. Make sure it’s a time for good quality time – an openness to good talks and answering questions from your children. This becomes easier when there are no distractions (tv, phones) and when we listen attentively. Aim for quality time, not just idle time.
Kids who eat dinner with their family have positive peer relationships and healthier eating habits. Sitting down to dinner means that you can’t just be grabbing fast-food. It’s a time to be intentional and provide a healthy meal. Children who eat regular family dinners also consume more fruits and vegetables, and young adults who ate regular family meals are less likely to be obese and more likely to make healthy meal choices once they live on their own. It’s a matter of setting a good example.
On average it’s been found that these kids refrain more from smoking, drinking, and drugs. Parental involvement becomes routine and automatic when the family comes together on a daily basis.
The daily routine of preparing and sharing meals together can foster a sense of family closeness and increase a sense of security. It’s not about how elaborate the meal is, but how much quality time is experienced. Kids who eat dinner with their families are also more emotionally content and experience lower stress levels. Here, the dinner atmosphere is important: parents need to be warm and engaged and encourage healthy eating.
Additionally, both increased family time spent at meals and more time spent sleeping are linked to fewer behavioral problems. Days can become busy and this also provides an opportunity to slow down and relax. It’s important to designate this time to slow down and be together after a full day.
What about your family? Try this one simple thing and reap the benefits of family meal time spent together.