By Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.
Believe it or not, your family’s eating habits can have a profound effect on your child’s academic success. The routine of preparing and sharing meals regularly creates a sense of family togetherness and unity. Though the hustle and bustle of everyday life can get in the way, it’s important to carve out time specifically to sit down together around the table. Students who eat dinner with their families often are more likely to:
- Do well in school (40% more likely to earn As & Bs in school)
- Be emotionally content and have lower levels of stress
- Have positive peer relationships and healthier eating habits
- Refrain from smoking, drinking, and doing drugs
- Believe their parents are proud of them.
This time together has additional well-documented benefits that include:
- Improved Achievement Test Scores – A University of Illinois study of 120 boys and girls ages 7 to 11 found that children who did well on standard achievement tests were those that had consistent quality meal time with their families.
- Improved Vocabulary and Reading Skills – A study by Dr. Catherine Snow at Harvard’s Graduate School showed that mealtime conversations teach children more vocabulary than when parents read to them. She followed 65 families for 15 years looking at how mealtime conversations played a critical role in language acquisition leading to improved vocabularies and better readers.
- Greater Academic Achievement – A Reader’s Digest survey of more then 2,000 parents compared academic achievement with family characteristics. Surprisingly, eating meals together was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether the children lived with one or two parents.
- Higher Grades – Researchers at Columbia University found a striking relationship between frequency of meal times and grades. Teens who have fewer than three family dinners ina typical week are more than twice as likely to do poorly in school. Twenty percent of teens who have infrequent family dinners (three or four per week) report receiving mostly Cs or below in school, whereas only nine percent of teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week) report receiving mostly Cs or lower.
Like anything else, eating dinners together does take practice. The less often a family meets to share a meal, the worse the experience is bound to be. So, plan on as many meals together as possible, even if you serve take out or only have a limited time available. Some things you might want to consider when getting ready are:
- Turn off the TV. It prohibits meaningful conversation.
- Use dinnertime to tell your child why he or she is a great kid.
- Focus on the positives during dinners.
- Refrain from discussing shortcomings or unfulfilled responsibilities.
Remember, family dinners are less about the food served and more about the time spent together. Use this time to talk and reconnect. Invite conversation. Ask open-ended questions and really listen to one another. Encourage your child to invite their friends to join in family meals. It is the simple act of being together that tends to increase a sense of security with children, not the elaborate makings of the meal.
Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Learn more at anndolin.com or ectutoring.com.