Nancy Halevi, Psy.D.

 Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Blog

Thoughts on family meal time

Posted on July 2, 2014 at 8:45 PM

How many of us dream of family dinners where the entire family is sitting around the table, talking, laughing, sharing the warmth and glow of family togetherness? The family dining table is an icon of family togetherness. Pictures and images of gathering together for the nourishment of body and soul are deeply ingrained in our imaginations and psyches. And yet, for many the actual experience of family dinnertime falls far short of our hopes and dreams. Often, mealtime is a time of frustration and exasperation for parents as they try, often in vain, to get kids to settle down, not complain about the food, not bicker with their siblings, sit still, use good manners, talk softly, not play with their food, try new foods, engage in conversation and generally behave. And for kids, the experience is often frustrating as well as they try to behave, sit still, and try new foods, etc.


Why is the dream of family mealtime so different from the reality many families experience? I believe it is because there is a fundamental disconnect between what  we parents hope to achieve and the manner in which we try to achieve it, and this occurs for many reasons. To begin, adults generally tend to enjoy sitting for the duration of meal, engaging in conversation and eating good food. This is often not true for children. Kids' attention span is shorter, their interest in lengthy conversations is often limited, and their interest in food is often not well developed. In short, appreciation and enjoyment of the dining experience is something that develops with age. It is something that needs to be cultivated. As children mature, their palates develop, their ability to focus increases, their interest in dinnertime topics of conversation increases. But as young children, they are simply, developmentally, still emerging in this area.


Another barrier to family warmth at mealtimes is the parental focus soley on behavior and manners. It is difficult to enjoy mealtime and feel relaxed for parents and kids alike when the focus is on sitting up straight, using utensils properly, speaking softly, sitting still, trying new foods, etc… Parents understandably feel that their job is to teach their children how to dine appropriately in the world. And it is. However, not all mealtimes need to be teaching opportunities. And certainly, it is possible to teach while still having a great time together. The notion that teaching and learning need to be ‘serious” is antithetical to what we know about how children learn. Kids learn when they are motivated to learn. How does motivation occur? Often, through emotional engagement and developed interest. In other words, in occurs when they are having fun! If you have ever watched a TV show for kids where learning is the focus you will know that this is true as animals and other characters sing, play games and otherwise make learning a whole lot of fun. So how do we create mealtimes where everyone has fun, where positive memoroes are created, table manners are taught and the family bonds? The answer to these questions will be the focus of my next blog.

Categories: Family Wellness