With all of the different parenting philosophies out there, a mother or father could get quite confused. One group believes in one thing, while another group believes the exact opposite (when did parenting begin to mirror politics?)
But thankfully, there is one thing that everyone can agree on: the family dinner.
The family dinner is like the holy grail of parenting, you get this one down and you can check off a whole slew of other parenting struggles.
That’s because family dinners promote language development, communication, and nutrition. It is the perfect time to be screen-free and it helps children build the skills they need to help overcome challenges.
When the entire family sits down to dinner once per week or more, then a lot of the other parenting woes such as behavior issues, communication issues and defiance tend to slip away. The family is seen more as a unit and when children feel more a part of something, they are more likely to take care of it and respect it.
A family dinner is also one that doesn’t include the television or other distractions. It is totally fine to eat dinner in front of the television, as long as you do a family dinner without it at least once per week as well. Hopefully, you have a space in your home where your whole family can sit and eat together. If not, it is something worth investing in.
So how young can children be to be involved in the family dinner? You can start once they are eating solids. They don’t have to eat the same things that you are eating, but by the time they are 8-10 months old, they should start having part of the same dinner.
And how old is too old to start a family dinner? Any age works, you can introduce the topic and say “one night per week, we are all going to eat dinner together”. If they are somewhat resistant to the idea, then make it special. For instance, for the weekly family dinner, we get to make or take-out pizza, and then we all eat it together.
I often hear parents saying that they feed the kids first, then put the kids to bed and then eat. That is a great way to have some alone time with your husband or to invite friends over, but it shouldn’t be the norm. Whenever I hear that, I picture the children eating box macaroni and cheese and I picture the adults eating some steak and asparagus later. The ideal is to eat all at the same time with macaroni and cheese, steak and asparagus. The children will love eating what the adults are eating and if it is their first time trying asparagus and they don’t like it yet (they need 15-20 times to try it) then they have plenty of mac and cheese to eat.
Above and beyond the nutritional aspect of family dinners is the connectedness that children feel when they eat dinner together with the whole family. A study was recently done about the “ties that bind us” which showed that children who knew more about their family, and about their past were able to heal faster after trauma. As a parent, I worry a lot about all the challenges and difficulties my children may face but to know that they have had all of these family dinners in their favor allows me to worry a little bit less.
And one last bonus: dinners out at restaurants are way easier because if it is part of your routine to sit and eat dinner all together, then little ones won’t be as squirmy and you will be able to enjoy your meal out so much more!
So if your children are young, don’t wait! Start now with either a nightly or weekly family dinner and know that all the TV shows and other things can wait until after dinner and know that this little change can make a huge difference in your children’s lives.