September is National Family Meals Month, a nation-wide movement encouraging families to commit to sharing one more meal together per week. Research overwhelmingly shows that sharing regular family meals is linked to positive outcomes in children. These include high grades, high self-esteem, healthier eating habits, and less risky behavior.
Regular family mealtimes provide an opportunity to foster family relationships as well as instilling important values in children and teens. For younger children, family meals provide an opportunity to establish routines and begin daily chores. Studies have linked children doing chores to positive mental health in early adulthood, and doing chores as a young child is a positive predictor of success in young adulthood. In the short term, chores can create opportunities for connection and in the long term, builds skills in responsible decision making and hard work, and your child will gain independence, life skills, competence and self-sufficiency. Young children can help set or clear the table at mealtimes, and older children can help prepare and cook meals, and wash dishes.
Family meals also provide the perfect opportunity for intentional communication, active listening, and relationship building with children and teens. Intentional communication is a way of communicating that deliberately fosters social and emotional skills development, and creates a safe environment to listen to each other and understand what the other person is feeling. This type of communication grows social and emotional skills, which are invaluable to long-term success and a variety of positive outcomes. Active listening is a part of intentional communication, which allows you to truly listen and understand without placing assumptions or judgment on what is being heard. This shows your child that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying, build self-awareness and self-regulation, and strengthens social and emotional skills like empathy and identifying emotions. Active listening employs asking open-ended questions, removing distractions like television and cell phones, and asking clarifying and reflecting questions of what has been communicated.
The Journal of Adolescent Health found that teens who have infrequent family dinners, defined as few than three per week, were 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescriptions drugs or to have used an illegal drug; are 3 times more likely to have used marijuana, and 2.5 times more likely to have used tobacco, than those who had more frequent family meals. Family meals provide time to talk about the use of drugs and alcohol with your teen and to set expectations and logical consequences.
Juggling jobs, kids, and the demands of modern life often come at the expense of family mealtime, but studies show taking the time to prepare meals at home and spend quality time together have lasting benefits. With the start of the new school year, renew your commitment to enjoying meals together at home to nourish your child’s body, brain and spirit.
ParentingMontana.org provides easy-to-use parenting tools to support your child’s success from kindergarten through the teen years, including tools on intentional communication, active listening, and logical consequences at parentingmontana.org. By using these resources, ParentingMontana.org will provide you with important information for conversations and parenting skills to share during these meal times. Parents and guardians can use family mealtime to build your child’s confidence; learn to be open about stress, conflict, and bullying; be open to talking about friends and homework, and improve responsibilities and work towards developing a routine.