I have long been an advocate of regularly eating meals together as a family as a means of encouraging the positive eating habits of young children, and as the most effective way for them to learn socially acceptable behaviour and manners. What I had not thought about was the mental health benefits and I was interested to read the following on parenting educator Michael Grose’s website recently;
“The biggest single preventative factor for anxiety and depressive illnesses in young people is being in a family that has 5-6 shared meals together with the television and other communication devices off.” Read more here.
Michael goes on to say that while mental health professionals cannot be sure why this is so, that the most obvious reasoning relates to family members taking regular time to eat and talk together which allows parents to keep tabs on how their children are doing and children to grow up with the knowledge that they can talk to their family members about problems and concerns. Both of which are important at any age but particularly as children grow beyond the early childhood years.
We have made the effort to eat dinner together regularly as a family since Immy was small. It obviously cannot happen every night but for us dinner works better than any other meal, at least during the week. Dad 101 goes into work early so that he can leave with (just enough) time to be home for us to enjoy dinner together. For the longest time our dinnertime conversation often started with Immy asking, “How many meetings did you have today, Daddy?” I think this originated from us often talking about Dad 101’s day at work first, as obviously Immy and I both knew what each other had got up too! Since she has started kindy we have started to hear an awful lot more about Immy’s day which is something that I hope continues on as she grows.
Reflecting on the idea of meal time conversations, I asked friends of the Childhood 101 Facebook page to share their conversation starters for family meals. Here are their responses;
~ Karen, “We have a dinner microphone (pretend of course) and you have to take the microphone and talk about your day and what you did.”
~ Eliza, “My Dad used to always ask us ‘What did you learn today?’ and he wouldn’t accept cheap answers like ‘Nothing’!”
~ Tatum, “Mostly I’ll ask the kids in turn about the best thing in their day…with 4 of them around the table + us that’s usually enough of a conversation starter to last the whole meal we’ll springboard topics from there.”
~ Barbara, Gemma, Tammy, Leanne and Deb all suggested each sharing a high and low point of the day (or best and not so great), an idea I first saw portrayed and really liked in the Bruce Willis movie, The Story of Us.
~ Jess of Plump Birth Support, ” At dinner time I really try hard to tell my 3yo what it was that I enjoyed about him/doing with him during the day. It’s a good conversation starter and reaffirms for him that no matter how rushed or cranky I am, ultimately I adore him and it helps him to unpack some of his day so he doesn’t have to do all that processing when it’s sleep time (and thus take HOURS to fall asleep).”
~ Carole, “What did you enjoy about your day today?”
~ Money Smart Kidz, “How much does it cost? Electricity, to make a book, etc. We talk about the process which turns into a history lesson and financial literacy discussion.”
~ Michelle, “What’s everyones favorite word for the day? If you were a superhero what would your special power be?”
~ Kate, “What was something that made you smile today? and what 3 things are you thankful for today? There’s 6 of us too, it’s really inspiring and really makes you think.”
~ Jodi, “What’s the most interesting thing from your day?” and Cat, “What happened that was special in your day?”
How do you manage to find time to eat together as a family? Do you have a regular conversation starter that you use to get everyone sharing?