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Why Are Family Meals Important for Children's Development?

One of the most significant outcomes of regular family meals is a sense of feeling connected together as a family. Children who feel connected tend to have more positive academic, social and health outcomes. Family meals offer an ideal setting for parents to connect with children through conversations. Talking with children allows parents to stay informed about what is going on in children’s lives. It also gives children an opportunity for focused time with their parents. Research finds that children who feel like their parents listen to them tend to have better outcomes than children who feel they struggle to get their parents’ attention. Talking with children also benefits children by teaching them valuable social skills. Conversations help children learn about language and communication by talking to their parents.

Talking with children also helps them learn how to interact socially with others. They learn how to take turns, practice speaking clearly, and learn how to put their thoughts into words. These skills have significant advantages for children’s success as they grow. Teaching children how to interact with others is just as important as teaching them to solve problems. Children who have good social skills tend to do better in school and have less behavior problems. When caregivers ask questions about events that happened during the day and talking about plans for the future, it helps children form memories and learn how to plan for the future. These skills help build the foundations for effective problem solving and organization. All these skills help them express their desires and needs to others. As they get older, they can use these skills to help solve disagreements and problem solve with others, which helps to build friendships and social networks.

Some parents find it hard to talk with their children. Talking with children is different from talking to children. To talk with children, parents need to include the child in the conversation. However, young children may only say one or two words at a time as they learn to communicate. Having a conversation with young children means follow-up on words or phrases they say, asking questions, and helping them say new words. Parents may find it easier to talk about something they have done together in the past, or make plans together for a future activity. All of these will help engage children in conversation and help them practice their social skills.

Making these connections during the mealtime helps make it positive for children. They can look to mealtime as a fun place where they get a chance to connect with their families.