Parenting can seem a complicated job at times. Managing misbehaviour, building self-concept, developing your child’s strengths, promoting physical health, teaching social skills, practicing reading, finding time for yourself … the list goes on. It can sometimes seem like there isn’t enough time in the week to do the job of parenting.
However, it can be encouraging to know that sometimes the simplest of daily routines can have the biggest impacts on our children’s lives.
Like having dinner together, around the table.
When it comes to establishing a healthy routine at home I often encourage families to prioritise having dinner together as one of the first routines to get into place. This sounds so simple but it is surprising how often this simplest of family traditions is forgotten and neglected in day-to-day life.
Recent trends suggest that family dinners around the table are more the exception than the rule on a weekly basis. We are eating out more and eating alone more. We are also spending less time together when we do sit down for meals as a family. Dinner has become a by-product of our busy culture. We rush through dinner now with minds preoccupied on what we are to do next.
However, the benefits of this simplest, and oldest, of family traditions are immense. Research has shown that children who eat regularly at the family table are healthier than those who don’t. They are 40% less likely to be overweight, have better eating habits in general, and are likely to be healthier eaters in adulthood. Children who eat dinner with their parents five or more days a week have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, perform better academically, and enjoy closer relationships with their parents. They are also less likely to truant at school, have better self-esteem, experience less depression, are less likely to engage in early sexual activity and experience fewer behaviour problems.
That is a lot of benefits.
Some of these benefits are fairly self-explanatory. For example, if you are eating at home more often then you are probably eating less take-away and a more well-balanced diet. However, many of the other benefits are a function of the interactions that we have as a family at the dinner table.
Sitting around a table promotes communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and connection with each other. Sitting around a table promotes a sense of security and a sense of belonging. In all of the busyness of the day, a family dinner around the table provides a regular moment where as a family we can be sure to connect with each other and remember who we are as a family.
That’s not to say that sitting around a table is all roses. It can certainly be challenging, especially with young children or with children with significant social, behavioural or emotional difficulties. However, it is a habit worth persisting with. Even if it starts small, or starts with the removal of screens or with creating a set time for dinner, it is worth persisting with.
Sometimes the simplest of things can have the greatest impact.