[dropcap]R[/dropcap]aising children in today’s hectic society comes with a lot more challenges than it did just 20 or 30 years ago; we now have more demanding jobs, constant distractions with our phones and other technology, and just busier lives in general. Somewhere in the mix, parents have to rear their children, and disciplining them is a huge part of the process.
Unfortunately, behavioral problems in children are much more prevalent today, but this one simple habit can actually create more well-mannered children: sitting down for family dinners.
You might be asking yourself, “What is the correlation here?” Well, a comprehensive report released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), stated:
“Eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs. Teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs and to have used illegal drugs, 3 times more likely to have used marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to have smoked cigarettes, and 1.5 times more likely to have tried alcohol, and 20% more likely to get C’s or lower on their report cards.”
Aside from a decreased likelihood of substance abuse, children who ate meals with their families at least five times per week had a lower risk of developing obesity and other eating disorders, engaging in criminal activities, having low self-esteem, performing badly in school, becoming pregnant at a young age, and giving into peer pressure.
So, something as simple as having dinner as a family can benefit young children in a handful of ways, providing them with a more enriching life and bolstering their outlook on themselves. Children need stability and lots of bonding time with their parents, and in today’s world, dinner time is usually the only opportunity throughout the day to connect with family members and share experiences and thoughts about their day.
Many parents today work longer hours than ever, and children often have to prepare meals themselves, or just eat take-home foods that parents bring home for them. However, heavily processed, fat-laden foods can lead to serious health problems, not to mention that buying dinners every night can take a big chunk out of your pocket change. Think about it: at home, you can make a big family dinner using only a few quality ingredients, and the leftovers might last a few nights. When you order take-out, the average price of a meal is $8.00, and the food usually only lasts for one meal.
When you make meals at home, you can reap so many benefits that aren’t available when you order food in: you can prepare meals together, which provides quality bonding time; you have more time to relax and enjoy meal time if you aren’t rushing out to pick up food; you choose what ingredients you use in the food you make, resulting in a healthier meal; and most importantly, the family can spend time together as a whole, and children feel more comforted and connected to their parents.
So, what does it take to have a successful family dinner? Not much, honestly; just your undivided attention, willingness to be flexible with your schedule, and ability to prepare healthy, nourishing foods for the family.
Make meals simple.
Don’t worry about following complicated recipes and slaving over the stove for hours; you can make delicious, healthy meals with just a few ingredients that the whole family can enjoy. Also, think about making extra food so that you have leftovers for a few nights, making meal time even simpler.
Don’t bring technology to the dinner table.
To really connect and bond with your children, turning off the technology for dinnertime is vital. Checking emails, Facebook, and other social media can really distract you and interrupt the whole bonding experience. Make it a point to leave your technology in another room and focus your attention on your children for the time being. The emails and Facebook will still be there when mealtime is over, but your children grow up quickly, and they need your full attention and support, especially in their younger years.
Get everyone to help out.
Assign a few simple chores to your children so that you don’t have to do all the preparing and cleaning up. This will teach them responsibility, plus, it will make the family feel like a team, creating a deeper bond.
Let everyone join in the conversation.
In our fast-paced world, sometimes it seems almost unnatural to slow down and turn off the chatter in our brains. Letting others have the floor and just listening, though, is important to your children’s development, and will create much better conversation at the dinner table. Allow everyone to talk, and encourage your children to share whatever they want about their day, or just life in general.
While no family is perfect, just sitting down together for a nice family dinner can make such a drastic difference in how everyone connects and communicates with one another.
Even if you can’t coordinate a family meal every night, having just three or four meals together a week will help your children tremendously in their development and behavior.