Everyone has heard about the benefits of eating together as a family (Read some of the benefits in The Lost Art of Family Meals). However, a question remained about whether the results associated with eating together as a family reflect a healthy family or truly flow from the activity of eating together. Now, a study from the University of Montreal has attempted to settle that question. They followed children who were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development from 5-months of age. At 6-years, their parents reported whether they had family meals together. Then, at 10-years-old, their parents, teachers, and even the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle and well-being. The researchers accounted for factors like temperament and cognitive abilities of the child, parent’s education and psychological characteristics, and family functioning. In other words, they were able to factor out any pre-existing conditions that might influence the child’s well-being and focus solely on eating family meals together. What did they discover?
Children who enjoyed a positive
family meal environment at 6-years of age had higher levels of general fitness
and lower levels of soft-drink consumption at age 10 years…regardless of
cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.
Children who enjoyed a positive
family meal environment at 6-years of age also had less physical aggressive,
less oppositional behavior, and less delinquent behavior at 10-years of age…regardless
of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.
Positive family meals, in and of themselves, contributed to children’s well-being at 10-years-old. They ate healthier, exhibited less aggression, and less negative behavior. Really, that is not surprising, is it? After all, children engage in social interactions with their parents and siblings during family meals. They learn how to discuss day-to-day concerns and even disagree over various topics in a civil and polite manner. They gain communication skills as they practice expressing themselves. They learn to associate eating well with positive experiences and so have eating well reinforced. They experience the joy of acceptance at the family table and enjoy the growing bond with family that increases their sense of security (Learn how that security translates to better relationships in Hot Sauce vs. the Power of Relationship). So, if you want to optimize your children’s communication skills, social skills, and overall maturity, make time to enjoy family meals.
Let’s face it. Smartphones (and similar devices) have become integral to our lives. They are like a member of the family. Maybe even more like our right hand than our “right hand man” ever was. We not only call friends and families with our phones, we keep our schedules, monitor our health, watch our favorite programs, expand our knowledge, keep updated on the news, check our homework, play our games, and more with our cell phones. They have become an integral part of our lives. However, they have brought a potential problem as well. We have developed an attachment, a longing even, to the pings, chimes, & vibrations with which our phone calls out to us. Many of our teens and college age people have come to base their self-worth and perceived popularity by the number of “likes” and heart emoji’s given in response to their posts. In this way, the cell phone, our smartphones, have become dangerous. They have taken our moods and our time captive. How many of us have had that moment of disappointment when we don’t “get enough” likes for some post? We have traded in our face-to-face contact, rich with body language and voice inflection, for emoji’s that represent various emotions and comments. How many of us have felt that sudden surge of frustration and anger because my alert is going off again? The constant availability of the texting, snapchat, Instagram world begins to weigh on us, robbing us of the time needed for our bodies and minds to relax and “re-create” our inner peace. All of this combines to shape our moods and our self-concept. In fact, a study from San Francisco State University has shown that college “students who used their phones the most reported high levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed, and anxious” (Digital Addiction Increases Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression).
We need a plan to keep this new member of our family from completely taking over our family and isolating each member of the family. We need a creative plan, one we can stick to. With that in mind, I have gathered a few ideas.
Turn off as many “push notifications” as you can. We really don’t need “push notification” for the sales at the local stores. I really don’t need a “push notification” for the weather (I can look out the window and get similar info). Take an honest look at your “push notification” and turn off the ones you do not need.
Designate a social media time each day. Turn off the “push notifications” for all social media and get in the habit of responding to your social media accounts once or twice a day. Schedule time for it. For instance, schedule 30-45 minutes at eight a.m. and 30-45 minutes at 9:30 p.m. Limit your social media use to those scheduled times. The rest of the day you can focus on face-to-face, voice-to-voice contact. You can enjoy the moment and even take some picture to send during your scheduled social media time.
When you are out with friends or family, put the phones away…out of sight and out of earshot. Focus on the moment to moment interaction. One interesting variation on this involved the college students in the study noted above. When they went out for dinks, everyone put their cell phones in the center of the table. The first one to touch their phone paid for drinks. There’s motivation to put your attention in the current face-to-face interactions rather than the phone.
Recognize how the pings, sounds, and buzzes create a desire in us and call us to respond. Turn them off. Silence the phone, especially during social times.
Take a phone holiday. Announce on social media that you are taking a vacation from all social media. Put the phone away except for actual calls and spend a week seeking out face-to-face interactions. Studies have shown that taking a “holiday” from Facebook increases happiness. (Yep, Science Confirms that Quitting Facebook Makes People Happier.)
Make dinner time and family time a no cellphone time. Enjoy time with your family with no cell-phone interruptions.
When you are out for a walk or riding the bus, spend time without your headphones on and time not looking at your cell-phone. Instead, look around. Notice the colors. See the scenery. Observe people. You might even try starting up a simple conversation depending on the setting. Notice your world and interact with it.
The smartphone is here to stay. It can serve an excellent purpose and help in many ways…when we learn to manage it well. Let’s take the time to learn how to manage it and teach our families to do the same. We will all be the better for it!
Do you have a “picky eater”? Oops, I made my first mistake in helping that child learn to eat better. I might have greater success teaching my child to eat a healthy diet by calling him or her a “learning eater” rather than a “picky eater.” Just this small change in label opens greater possibilities for growth and change. “Picky” implies an unchanging global trait whereas “learning” implies room for growth. “Learning” implies the child can learn to like a broader array of foods and styles of cooking. “Learning” suggests there is something more out there to find out about as opposed to an enduring trait of “picky.” So, if you want your child to be less picky and more of a learner when it comes to food, start using the phrase “learning eater.” While we’re at it, here are five other tips to help your “learning eater” to eat better.
Involve your child in food shopping, cooking, and even growing the food if possible. Let them experience the whole process of farm to table food. This will increase your child’s understanding, appreciation, and respect for food.
Make meal time enjoyable. Keep demands and anger away from the dinner table. Do not nag your child about eating or doing chores while at the dinner table. Instead, make meal time enjoyable. Celebrate your relationships. Encourage your children. Tell them what you admire and adore about them. Inform them about what they do that makes them proud.
Quit using dessert for a reward or a bribe.
Include a couple of vegetables with each meal. Don’t push the veggies or nag them to eat the veggies. Just provide a couple of veggies and let them choose one to eat.
Keep snacking to a minimum. Provide healthy snacks as well.
What other tips do you have for helping your children learn to eat a healthy diet?
A study completed in 2014 revealed a type of food that impacts children’s intelligence. This study obtained data on 11,740 US students, their consumption of fast food and their academic testing. They discovered that 10% of adolescents ate fast food almost every day. Over half the children ate fast food 1-3 times per week. Those adolescents who ate a lot of fast food performed 20% worse on standard tests of reading, math, and science as compared to those who did not eat any. In addition, the more frequently children at fast food around the age of 10-years, the worse their test scores were three years later. These results are thought to result from a lack of nutrients that enhance cognitive development and too much fat and sugar that have proven detrimental to memory and cognitive development.
I share this information with you because we all want our children to experience success in school, work, and life. Too much fast food can hinder their academic success. On the other hand, enjoying home-cooked meals at home with family has many benefits including:
The UK has engaged in a longitudinal study called Understanding Society. The study started gathering data on 40,000 households in 2009. They also incorporated data from the British Household Panel Survey which began in 1991. That’s 25 years of data about families, relationship, health, and so much more! (Learn more about it at Understanding Society). Why do I tell you about this study? Because this study, with the largest household panel from which to gather data over an extended period of time, has revealed three things parents can do to raise happier children! It’s true. Happy adults were raised by parents who did three things…three things that you can do today to help your children become happy adults. Let me share them with you now.
First and foremost, work to build a healthy, happy marriage. In particular, children become happier adults when their mother is happy in her marital relationship. Their father’s happiness in the marital relationship, although important, did not have as significant an impact as their mother’s happiness did. I would add, however, that most men in healthy marriages are happiest when they know their spouse is happy. So, to have happier children, maintain a healthy, happy marriage. Men, find ways to bring joy and happiness to your wife. Speak her love language. Share the household chores. Pursue dreams together. The healthier and more secure your marriage, the happier your wife; the happier your wife, the happier your children.
Pursue peace. The study actually reports happiest people are raised by parents who “avoid regular arguments.” Unfortunately, simply avoiding arguments tends to escalate the tension and increase the possibility of “a big blowout.” Instead of simply avoiding arguments, pursue peace. You can pursue peace by keeping promises, discussing decisions, allowing your spouse to influence you, resolving differences before they become arguments. In other words, you can pursue peace by honoring, serving, and celebrating your spouse. Pursuing peace decreases arguments and, when disagreements do occur (which they will), pursing peace leads to quicker, calmer, and more satisfying resolutions. That will contribute to happier children. (For more on pursuing peace, read The Secret to Family Peace)
Eat at least three meals as a family each week. Eating meals as a family offers benefits in every area of family life—physical, mental (Have Fun, Eat, &..What?), emotional, and relational (Read A Special Ingredient for Happy Families for more). Your children will have fond memories of family meals. Fond memories, by the way, contribute to happiness. Family meals provide one cornerstone of happiness for every family. Enjoy them as often as you can.
A happy marriage, the pursuit of peace, and regular family meals all contribute to happier children who grow into happy adults. Sounds like the makings of a great New Year’s resolution. I think I’ll do it. Won’t you do the same?
A middle school boy told me what he liked and didn’t like about his family. Interestingly, he liked the family dinners they used to have. He disliked that they no longer had those family dinners. Even as a middle school boy, he missed family dinners! Family dinners provided him the time he desired to slow down, talk, and connect with his whole family. I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised to hear a middle-school-aged child talking about missing family dinners. Nonetheless, he made an excellent observation. Family dinners provide time to reconnect and bond with our families. They are a time to relax, tell stories, and talk about our daily lives, laugh, and even make future plans.
Regular family meals help reduce the rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression in adolescents.
Families that enjoy regular family meals see their children attain higher grade-point averages.
“Dinner conversation” boosts vocabulary more than reading does!
The stories of personal victories, perseverance, fun moments, and family times help build a child’s resilience and confidence.
As you can see, family meals offer a smorgasbord of benefits for families and their children. So, if you want your family to grow more intimate…if you want your children to grow up happy…if you want your children to grow up physically and emotionally healthy…if you want your children to have a higher grade-point average, set aside the time to enjoy regular family meals. Here are a few tips to help you plan your family meal time:
Include Your Whole Family in the Meal Process. The family meal process includes making the menu, preparing the meal, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. Include the whole family in these activities. Make the menu together. One day a week, allow a different family member to pick their favorite food items for a meal. Encourage the whole family to help clear the table, load the dishwasher, wash the dishes…and make it fun with conversation and laughter. Come up with your own creative ways to include the whole family in the family meal process.
Enjoy Conversation While You Eat. Save topics you know lead to arguments for another time and focus on conversations that will build relationships. Talk about the day’s activities, each person’s dreams, memories of fun family times, and things you’d like to do in the future. Really, the topics available for discussion are limited only by our
Plan a Few Dinner Surprises. Your family might enjoy dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner. Plan one “ethnic meal night” per week and travel the globe with culinary surprises. Eat your meal backwards, starting with dessert. Plan an “Iron Chef” night and let each family members cook one dish…the family can vote on best taste, presentation, and creativity after the meal. You get the idea. Do something different now and again. Make it a surprise…and have fun.
Turn off the Technology. Turn off TV’s, video games, phones, and any other technology that has the potential to interfere with the moment’s face-to-face interaction and family interaction. Learn to enjoy each other in the moment with no interruption.
Put it all together and you have a family meal, the special ingredient of healthy families.
We all want happy families. In fact, I’m implementing a 30-day family happiness challenge in my home and I’d like to invite you to join along. It really isn’t all that hard. But, it will demand doing certain things every day for 30 days. So, set the reminder on your phone, write them on a post-it and stick it on your mirror…whatever it takes to make sure you
remember each action each day. Here they are.
Give your spouse and each child 3 hugs every day for 30 days. That’s one hug when you leave the house, one hug before bed, and one hug sometime in between. (Learn more in Becoming a Master Hugger.)
Give your spouse and each child one genuine compliment every day for 30 days. Tell them a character trait you appreciate or something you admire about them.
Tell your spouse and each child “thank you” for something they did every day for 30 days. This is different than the compliment. The compliment will acknowledge some character trait you admire. The “thank you” will acknowledge something they just did in the moment that day. You can say “thank you” for something as simple as passing the salt or as involved as painting the house. Whether it’s something you expect them to do all the time or a surprise, offer thanks. (Read the amazing benefits of gratitude in 7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research and Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores?)
Tell your spouse and each child “I love you” every day for 30 days. I would suggest doing this in the morning and in the evening before bed, but you can pick any time you like. Just make sure to tell each one every day.
Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day for 30 days. That’s right, do one thing for each person. It doesn’t have to be big, just do something for them. They do not even have to notice it, just do something for them. Unload the dishwasher, sweep the floor, get gas in the car, help set the table, watch a movie together, patiently help with homework, get a treat…you get the idea. Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day.
Eat one meal together every day for 30 days. During the meals enjoy conversation. Avoid lectures and “touchy subjects.” Just talk about the day. Tell some jokes. You might even give your compliment, “thank you,” or “I love you” during the meal. (Have Fun, Eat, &…What? will show a surprising benefit of eating as a family.)
None of these activities are especially hard; but, you will find they have an amazing impact on your family. Don’t believe me? Take up the challenge. Do each one for the next 30 days…it may make a believer out of you! Either way, I’d love to know what happens so leave a note in the message below.
Resilience: the muscle that gives our children the strength to bounce back from adversity, persist through obstacles, and stretch through the pain toward maturity. It is an essential muscle for all of us, especially our children. Our children need resilience to experience greater happiness and more success. If you are wondering how you can coach your children to strengthen resilience, let me share this 6-step resiliency strengthening program with you. Try it out and watch your children’s muscles of resiliency grow strong.
Show your children they matter. Let them know you care about them and rely on them. You can do this by giving them your time. Engage them in activities. Learn about activities that interest them. Make time to listen, really listen, to your children as well. Doing so will show them they matter to you. Invite them to participate in household chores with you so they know they matter to your family and home. Become involved in a volunteer activity together, something that makes a difference beyond the home. These activities teach your children they matter to you, your family, and your community. They also discover that their actions influence the world around them and they can wield that influence for positive ends.
Become your children’s dream catcher. Learn about your children’s interests and passions. Research opportunities for them to gain new experiences in their areas of interest. For instance, buy a book or movie related to their interest. Enroll them in a camp focused on their interest. Introduce them to other adults and children with similar interests. This will cost you some time and maybe even some money. But, it will teach your children they matter (see bullet #1) and it teaches them how to seek out opportunities for themselves. Catch your children’s dream and help make it a reality. (Read Grow Your Children’s Dream for more info.)
Eat at least one meal together each day. No TV, no phones, no texting…just sitting down as a family to eat and talk. A shared meal is a great way to give your children undivided attention. It’s a wonderful time to talk about the accomplishments and struggles of the day. During that interaction, you can focus on gratitude as well as the inevitable obstacles of the day, both of which promote resiliency. You can also share the family story…. (Check out The Lost Art of Family Meals and Project Mealtime.)
Share family stories. Your children will love to hear the stories of your life as a child: adventures you enjoyed, how you met your spouse, lessons you learned, etc. Tell stories about family members who overcame struggles and obstacles as well. Family stories build identity. Let your family stories build an identity of growth, perseverance, and resilience for your children.(Try telling The Story That Will Change Your Family Life! for a great start.)
Acknowledge effort. Rather than simply praise your children for the trophy or ribbon they bring home, talk about the hard work and effort they invested to make it possible. Recall the obstacles they overcame and the times they persisted in the face of hardship. Relish in the story and teamwork of the effort undergirding the accomplishment, not just the end result. (Build Your Child’s Success Mindset give more on acknowledging effort.)
Problem-solve as opportunities arise…and opportunities will arise. Problem-solving begins with listening intently and earnestly. After the problem is completely disclosed and understood, simply ask, “What are you going to do?” Let your children respond and listen as they begin problem-solving. Gently give input to refine their ideas, suggest possibilities, and guide toward positive solutions. Listen, ask, and expand rather than lecture, direct, and solve…that will teach your children problem-solving.(Read Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory to learn the benefit of letting your children experience the difficulties of life rather than solving the difficulty for them.)
There it is: a 6-step resiliency strengthening program. Implement it today and you will love watching your children grow more resilient as they mature.
I found variations on this saying attributed to a number of sources ranging from Gandhi and Lao Tzu to Michael Hyatt and James Hunter. Doesn’t really matter who said it in the long run. It’s true for individuals and families. If you want your family to enjoy intimate
conversations, fun times, and loving interactions it begins with your choices and actions. If you want your family to become a place of refuge, fun, and security, it begins with choices and actions carried out on a consistent, daily basis. The big one time events do not shape our families for the long run. It’s the choices we make on a consistent basis that become the actions of our daily lives. As we engage in those actions on a consistent basis within the family, we form family habits. Those habits shape our families’ character and determine our families’ destiny. That’s where honor, grace, and celebration come in. When we consistently choose to practice honor, grace, and celebration in our families, we develop families filled with respect, intimacy, security, and fun. Here are some great daily actions that will help you develop an amazing family character and destiny.
Honor your family with courteous words and polite actions.
Honor your family with expressions of gratitude and appreciation.
Honor your family with compliments, statements of adoration and praise.
Honor your family with your time.
Honor your family by becoming a student of your spouse and each child.
Honor your family by serving your spouse and children.
Show your family grace by accepting and even celebrating differences in talents, interests, and opinions.
Show your family grace by initiating the resolution of any disagreement.
Show your family grace by putting your spouse’s and your children’s interests ahead of your own.
Show your family grace by forgiving quickly.
Show your family grace through discipline, setting and enforcing limits in love.
Celebrate your family by making it a point to play and laugh together.
Celebrate your family with dinner time together.
Celebrate your family by acknowledging effort toward a goal as well as accomplishments.
Celebrate your family by encouraging and supporting your spouse’s and your children’s dreams.
Celebrate your family by worshipping together.
Make a choice to put these actions into daily practice. In doing so, you will build a family who practices honor, grace, and celebration habitually. Honor, grace, and celebration will form the foundation of character in your family and shape your family’s destiny. Who knows, if enough families make the choice to make honor, grace, and celebration the habit of their family, we might just change the world!
Well, a study published in the Journal of Public Health (read more here) confirmed another way to increase happiness in your family. To some, this method of increasing happiness will come as a shock and lead to a resounding groan. To others it will lead to a collective shout
of joy. What could increase family happiness and still have such a variety of responses? Eating fruits and vegetables. What? It’s true. You have to be kidding! No, the study shows that eating 8 servings of fruit and vegetables will increase happiness (click here to check out the graph embedded in this review to show the increase). This is no small study either. Mujcic and Oswald (the authors) examined food diaries of 12,385 adults over the years 2007, 2009, and 2013. That represents a lot of people over a long period of time. They found that eating 8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day boosted happiness “to the max.” In fact, the boost in happiness from eating 8 servings of fruits and vegetables had the same impact as getting a job after a period of unemployment! The boost in happiness occurred quickly as well. It didn’t take days or weeks. Eating fruits and vegetables today led to greater happiness tomorrow (unlike “the hamburger today [for which] I’ll gladly pay tomorrow”). So, bring on the brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and green beans. Stock up on apples, oranges, bananas, and berries. Encourage your family to eat fruits and vegetables. It will bring greater happiness into your home.