Family dinners can seem like formal affairs or like something out of an old fashioned setting. In today’s modern world, it’s easy for us to get busy with work, school, and all the other activities of life. With conflicting schedules, each family member just grabs some food whenever he or she can get to it. So why should we eat dinner together as a family?
It may not seem to matter whether we eat dinner together or not, as long as everyone gets fed. Recent research, however, tells us that there is measurable value to eating dinner as a family.
Why it matters
Experts in multiple fields say that parental involvement is the key influence on their children’s success. In academics, in social development, and in preventing risky behaviors, parental involvement is the one thing that affects every area.
How does parental involvement affect these issues? When kids have consistent support in any area, it gives them the encouragement, determination, and the confidence needed to move forward toward their goals.
In academics, even in learning to read, parental involvement in any way supports the child’s efforts. This alone can make an enormous difference for a child. Continued support from elementary school through high school will build confidence for children. And this confidence doesn’t only impact academic success. This confidence also helps them to know that unconditional acceptance is there for them even if they are not successful.
The same concept affects their growth in social development. The difficult waters of school aged social interaction can be navigated much more easily when there is clear care and closeness known in a child’s home. A child who knows his parents listen to him and make time for him will not feel so desperate for the approval of peers at any cost.
None of us wants our children to be involved in substance abuse, criminal activity, or any other negative behaviors. The confidence we’ve been discussing can provide a clear sense of purpose in a child. This concept has been used in evidence-based programs for preventing unhealthy behaviors in youth. The programs spend very little time telling kids not to do the risky behavior. However, they spend a lot of time helping kids to develop personal goals and to decide what kind of people they want to be. This approach has brought far more success in lowering the number of children participating in risky behaviors. It works much better than only telling our kids not to do something. Instead, it provides them with the motivation they need to make good decisions. This is far more effective.
How to eat dinner together as a family
Again, we have busy lives, and often our schedules do not allow for much time to spend together as families. And so, one of the most recommended ways to make this time happen is to eat dinner together as a family. This doesn’t mean that you must eat together every night so that your children can be safe and successful. Experts tell us that eating dinner together as a family even once a week can make a difference. The point is to have some consistent way to connect.
This idea of connection is important. It isn’t really about only eating dinner at the same time at the same table. To connect, we have to talk about our days or our ideas or our dreams. We’re aiming to create a definite time for children to look forward to. If they have something to share, there is no worry about when they will be able to do so. And they know they will be listened to .
To incorporate signing into this effort, you could teach your kids that we eat together on certain days. Click on the words to go to the pages in our Sign Language Dictionary. You can each learn the signs for asking “How are you?” You can use this sign to literally ask the question, or your kids can use it as a safe, non-awkward way to let you know they’d like to say how they are doing and tell you about their day.
Visit the Family Day website for more ideas on how to spend meaningful time together.