We hear more and more today concerns about the mental health of our children and adolescents. Anxiety. Depression. Isolation. Lack of focus. While there are numerous factors in our society that contribute to this, I would like to offer one proven factor to improve mental wellness in not only children and adolescents, but the whole family.
The family table. Yes, as early as 1943, researchers have pointed out the benefits of families coming together daily to share a meal. One such study stated “Family meals allow the parents to impart values and traditions, as well as demonstrate appropriate relationships, communication techniques, and problem-solving skills.” Family meals provide the structure and support for children to feel more secure and safe, knowing what to expect. These meals also provide the opportunity to monitor children’s moods, behavior, and activities, providing parents with insight into the emotional well-being of their children. Other benefits noted from these studies included improved academics, improved nutrition/ decreased obesity, decreased risk of substance use and other high-risk behaviors, and improved relationships within the family.
Now, we live in a busy world and making family meals a priority even for several nights a week is a challenge. This is not meant in any way to criticize your lifestyle. Most parents, according to surveys, would like to increase the times the family shares a meal together, and cite the challenges of work and school schedules, increased electronic use and meal prep. If you are one of these parents, let me offer a few suggestions that research indicates will improve the quality of this time together.
- Make a consistent set time for the meals
- Aim to eat together 4-5 times a week; include a weekend brunch
- Involve your children in the meal prep (skill building)
- Make the table a device free zone (that includes you also parents)
- Delegate meal tasks (table setting, dish cleaning, etc.)
Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Adolescents may complain. Siblings may argue. Meals may not turn out perfect. Give everyone, including yourself, grace. Know that you are doing a healthy and beautiful thing for your family.