McBLOG: Family Dinners – Your kids want you there for dinner

Recent research published in the Journal of Family Psychology continues to endorse just how important the dinner table is, as well as the presence of parents.


I’ve always been aware that the family meal table holds something special.

I even wrote a full report on what the research shows

And there was some recent research out over the weekend which continues to endorse just how important the dinner table is.

So the resulting report was entitled “IT’S TIME FOR DINNER: The Effect of Regular Family Dinners on Family Life”.

And amongst all the research – and there was a lot – the areas examined related to the effects of regular family dinners on your children and their well-being, risk-taking, nutrition, obesity, preventing eating disorders, protection from the harms of cyberbullying, and the effects of technology and effects of deprivation.

What I found was compelling. On the whole, regular family dinners have a positive and protective effect which benefits families, and especially young people. The ‘magic’ appears not to be around the food, but around the family engagement, the conversations, the strengthening of family bonds, and importantly, the role in helping children deal with the challenges of adolescence and peer pressure.

Family meals provide important opportunities for parents to communicate clear expectations about behaviour and family values.

More frequent dinners also facilitate opportunities for teenagers to express problems and concerns – as they arise.

The research also suggests potential decreases in the likelihood of suicidal thoughts, binge drinking, smoking and marijuana use, sexual activity, obesity, and eating disorders.

However, they can also be ‘negative’ experiences – it may not be enough to suggest that families eat together regularly if they come prepared to criticise, to control, or to avoid conversation altogether. I’m sure we’ve all experienced one or two or more of those events.

But when they ‘work’, family dinners together help make great memories and strengthen the bond of those present.

But there was a new study that has just been released which has important findings. Researchers from the University of Illinois looked at more than 1,400 married couples with two-year-old children, calculating how many dinners a week the child ate with their mother and also their father. Then, when the child was four or five years old, they asked parents questions about their behaviour, such as tantrums and sharing. Toddlers who ate dinner less often with their father were more poorly behaved at an older age. That was the case even if they ate dinner with their mother every day – suggesting it is best to have both parents present.

Sehyun Ju, who led the study, said: ‘During family meals, children learn from watching adults share food, interact with each other, hold conversations and make eye contact. ‘This is a unique daily experience which may help them learn how to communicate and behave. ‘These results suggest having the whole family around the table is important, because fathers bring important and unique qualities, as well as mothers.’

Just one day a week where a father or mother was missing from the dinner table was significantly linked to worse childhood behaviour. Fathers who were dissatisfied with their work and financial situation were found to eat dinner with their family less often.

The study also found women who were dissatisfied with their jobs and financial situation had more badly behaved children – perhaps because they were more tired and less emotionally engaged with their offspring.

The apparent importance of parents being at mealtimes was seen even after researchers took into account the involvement of mothers and fathers in their children’s lives generally, for example at bedtime and bath-time.

The study authors state: ‘It is possible that parents who are able to maintain family mealtime routines despite their work-related stress may have better work–family boundaries and greater stress regulatory capacity.’

The study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology

This just adds to all the positive evidence of the benefits of family mealtimes together,

When any family-based activity has the potential to help children deal with the pressures of adolescence and peer pressure, improve their well-being and nutrition, strengthen family bonds, we should give it priority. it seems a ‘slam-dunk’ that families should schedule as many dinners together during the week as possible – even when competing with busy work and school schedules.

So here’s a couple of tips, based on the research findings…

* Make shared family meals a priority. If necessary, book them in with the family in advance – especially with older busier children

* prepare simple cost-effective meals. They don’t have to be buffets or royal feasts

* involve children and teens in the meal planning and preparation

* have healthy eating options

* keep the mealtime as positive as possible

* turn off the TV and devices while at the table.

* Make dinner not about the food, but about the family, and time together

Family – it’s time for dinner.

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