Whether it’s pasta night, pot roast or a dinner as simple as pizza with half pepperoni, families should be sitting down, as much as possible, for a daily meal with the family.
“With multi-tasking, flying from one event to the other, working, activities and homework, we’re often not present for our children and research shows that it’s not the quantity of the time we spend time with our kids, it’s the quality,” said Dr. Tiffany Griffiths, a licensed clinical psychologist with practices in Clarks Summit, Dunmore and Exeter.
She said families should use dinnertime to hash out the day and find out what’s happening in their children’s daily life.
“It’s a good chance to find out if they are having any issues or problems that you should be aware of and really using that time to give them your full and undivided attention. It lets them know that the door is open, you’re there for them, and you care about them and are there to hear from them.”
A study published in the academic journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development also shows that aside from the nutritional benefits, dinnertime increases vocabulary and even helps children understand stories and how to explain things. Other studies link regular family dinners to higher grades in school and achievement in other activities like sports and art.
“It’s a great time to have your kids use you as a sounding board,” she said.
But with soccer practice, piano lessons and even playtime, how do you make sure dinnertime happens? What’s a good time? Is there ever a time that’s too late? And how often?
“Something is better than nothing,” Griffiths said. “Families should be making a commitment to make that happen, even if it’s not at a typical time.”
Griffiths used her own family as an example. She has three children — 4, 10 and 15-years-old — who are in all different activities with different eating times. She said the 4-year-old now gets a snack around the regular dinnertime hour to help wait until 7 p.m. when she’s home for dinner.
“That happens about five days a week,” she said. “We try to make it every day, but that’s not always possible.”
“A five or six o’clock dinnertime might not work because of after-school activities. Even right after school, there’s homework, so it really depends on what’s happening within the family, but try to do it as many days as possible,” Griffiths said.
Dinnertime is also a time to get rid of all of the distractions.
“This is not a time for cell phones, texting or having the television on while everyone is eating dinner,” she said. “If the phone rings, don’t answer it. Use that time to have the family reconnect.”
Griffiths also said to take advantage of delving deeper into what is happening in the lives of your children.
“Avoid open ended questions,” she said. “Let them know you’re paying attention to them. Often times they see us frazzled trying to keep it all together and going from task to task. We have to show them we’re interested in them.”