Food is considered as a social activity in the Asian culture. In Singapore, eating is a national past time where young and old alike bond over food. Our busy schedules make it harder for us to sit down and have a proper family dinner. However, research has shown that dinner table talk has many benefits for child development. Apart from a precious pocket of bonding time, the advantages of dinner table talk include healthier eating habits and the possibility of attaining better grades. Here are a few reasons why you should make time for family dinners at least twice a week.
1) Family Bonding Time
Dinner time is an opportunity to catch up on life events. We often rush about to complete our tasks that we may forget to check up on our family members. As children enter their teenage years, they wish to gain some independence from their parents. They may go out with friends more often or retire to their rooms early. Regular family dinner time can help you keep track of your child’s progress. Such practice would also ensure the child is well-informed of what is happening at home. Dinner table talk fosters connections between parent and child from young.
2) Reduced Risky Behaviours
Children who have close bonds with their family are less likely to seek validation elsewhere. This external validation may be a bad influence on them. Dinner table talk is also an outlet for them to talk about their problems with older members of the family. Research has shown that regular dinners reduces risky behaviours like smoking and early sexual activity. (1)
3) Increased Academic Performance
Conversations with adults expose children and teenagers to a vast array of topics and ideas that they may not cover in school. There may also be dinner table “debates”, which require children to defend their stand. This develops argumentative skills and critical thinking. Young children pick up a broader range of vocabulary when listening to adults at the dinner table, compared to children who do not have regular family dinners. (1)
4) Healthier Diet
Home-cooked meals are more likely to be packed with nutrition. Children who eat at home regularly consume more fruits and vegetables. They are also expected to continue this behaviour when they move out of the house.
5) Fewer Health Problems
A positive effect of eating healthily is fewer physical health problems. Children also have better mental health in a warm and engaging environment.
What to Talk About
If your family doesn’t have regular dinner table talk, it may be hard to find topics to talk about initially. Here are a few ideas:
– Discuss how current world problems (wars, air and land pollution, environmental degradation, etc.) can be solved. Such practice builds creative thinking and innovation. It would indeed open up the minds of children.
– Talk about your family history
– Ways you or your parents have overcome adversity at any phase of life
– Different career paths that your child can consider
Most importantly, ensure that every child has an opportunity to talk and be heard. Do not be overly critical of your child’s opinions as this will lead to an adverse environment. It is also best to put all electronic devices aside so that there are no distractions.
Light-hearted dinner table talk has long-term benefits on child development. If including regular family dinner table talk in your schedule is tight, try other meal timings that will work better for your family. Having a respectful place for dinner table talk will eventually lead to stronger family bonds.