Family dinner time
Although this post does not deal directly with music, it does deal with families and child development, close cousins to music education, in my opinion. It is an article from Growing Child (a terrific resource that I used with my own children), the "Grandma Says" section. Here is the link to the website, and the article:
The Family That Eats Together
Maybe the best thing that came out of the Covid era was that the family dinner made a comeback. Without family members dashing off to separate activities and mostly at home, more families had time to come together, sit down and eat dinner together more often than an occasional weekend meal. And this is a good practice that we should keep.
The benefits have been reported repeatedly. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family stated that more meals at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems in school.
Mealtime was more powerful than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports or art activities. Five or more dinners every week with a parent contribute to academic success, psychological adjustment, and lower rates of alcohol and drug use, early sexual behavior and suicide risk, results that are true for both one- and two-parent families.
Children with more regular family dinners have healthier dietary patterns, including eating more fruits and vegetables, less saturated fats and trans-fat, fewer fried foods, and more vitamins and micronutrients. So it's worth a bit of juggling as normal life resumes to be able to maintain the family dinners.
How to make sure mealtime is a pleasant oasis as life gets more hectic? Establish some simple house rules, such as:
- Dropping phones in a basket on the counter.
- No television.
- Create a pleasant atmosphere, with no adult arguments or criticism of the children. Save those conversations for time away from the table. Remember that this is a time to enjoy one another's company, not a time for instruction.
- Teach by example, not by talking. Parents teach table manners by using them. If you are going to keep pointing out deficits in table manners or nagging about nutrition, it won't be a pleasant experience to be together at the table.
- Another basic house rule should be that at least a taste of every food offered should be served on every plate. Then this does not have to be discussed.
- Liven up the conversation. Everyone should have a turn to talk. Ask a specific question for everyone to answer: What was the funniest thing you saw today? What was the best thing that happened today?
Dinner table conversation is how families become closer, with lots of incidental learning. The conversation is what makes everyone want to stay at the table together, not rush back to their rooms or individual screens.
- Establish mealtime rituals. Whether you begin with saying grace, lighting candles, or making a toast to some family news or accomplishment, set the signal that you have come together, a time for the family.
- Take turns table setting, making the environment attractive and uncluttered. Where possible, share kitchen help responsibilities, creating a sense of community. Children can take turns carrying plates to the counter, for example.
Every family has its unique personality, so every family dinner pattern will be different. I have a friend who established a tradition of one formal dinner a week, where everyone dressed up and used their best manners, the only night when manners were emphasized.
Another asked his older children to bring a new word to share at the table on Wednesdays, telling others how they learned it, resulting in a great deal of laughter as everyone tried out the word.
However you choose to structure your family dinners, know they will be a forever part of your children's childhood memories.