Family Dinners Make Smarter Kids!
*“Love begins at home.”
*Mother Teresa, December 11, 1979 (Upon receiving the Nobel Prize)
© 2009 Mom to Madre
Did you grow up sharing meals as a family? When I grew up in the 1950s and
60s, families ate breakfast and dinner together daily. Kids could walk home from school
for lunch. This had a powerful effect on the family. There was frequent contact between
parent and child. Important conversations took place at the family table. Parents had a
strong influence over the children, and information was shared throughout the day and
for the duration of the childhood.
Our lives are more hectic now. Most moms work. Many families are headed by a
single parent. Fast food is a staple of children’s diets. In many homes, family meals
together are a thing of the past. This is a loss because children benefit from family meals
greatly. They are an important part of a child’s education and an easy way to strengthen
a child’s vocabulary and knowledge of general information. Children learn to listen to
others and to take turns speaking in this manner. With the television turned off, everyone
can hear what is important to each other.
Values, religious beliefs, customs, traditions, history, and news of current events
are learned through dinner conversations with family. Children learn about manners and
polite conversation. This helps them feel confident when they are with other people.
They learn a great deal by listening to the adults in their lives talk. They learn about
work, about conflicts, and conflict resolution. They are part of a group situation and learn
how to participate in a group.
The simple tasks of helping with meal preparation, setting the table, clearing it
after the meal is done, and then helping with clean-up, are very beneficial to children’s
development. Children learn about responsibility and working as a “team member.” They
see that doing a job well is satisfying. They also feel proud that they are needed. All
these benefits are free! No special training, equipment, or format is needed. Family
meals taken together are a wonderful gift and they can happen without much effort.
If the idea of eating together every day seems unrealistic for your family, then
start a “Family Dinner” day for one or two nights a week. It is fine if you all eat
MacDonald’s take out together. Just make sure you sit together to eat. Perhaps one
weekend dinner could include other family members. Sundays are made special with a
family dinner with grandparents or cousins. Make it easy for yourself by having a potluck.
Don’t worry about the way the house looks. Every house with children is messy, but who
cares! Having guests over with other young children makes everyone happy-parents get
to talk (a little!) and kids can occupy themselves for a short while.
Start in a relaxed, easy-going way. Aiming for perfection is impossible with young
kids. There will be spills and toddlers under the table. Little by little everyone will get the
hang of it and as the little ones grow up, so will their social skills. By watching the adults
engage in friendly conversations, with kids adding their news and ideas, the children will
feel secure, valued, and loved.