DINNER TIME: NURTURING THE MIND AND THE BODY
Everybody has heard that having dinner together as a family is a good thing for your children. Recent studies show the huge positive impact that children get when eating dinner with their families. The more frequent family dinners children have, the better they do in school, the less likely they get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide, or become sexually active early in their teen years.
The benefits of eating together help children and parents to stay connected and build better relationships. A family dinner gives children a tangible sense of belonging and fulfills their need of being nurtured through the ritual of sharing food with those they love. In order to create a productive dinner hour for everyone, here are a few ideas to get started:
1. The food is not the point. Although healthy meals are essential, decent nutrition does not necessarily require a long prep time. So, instead of focusing on an elaborate meal on weeknights, remember that the point of sitting down together is to connect and share with one another.
2. Cultivate sacred space. Create a daily, short, but restorative celebration of family, which will help everyone to relax from their busy day. Some families light candles, put a seasonal table cloth while others say a blessing that may or may not be religious, but speak about our gratitude of being together and our appreciation of each other.
3. Make the discussion interesting for everyone. Make sure to not talk exclusively about jobs and school. The initial question might be “How was your day at school/work?”, which can lead into a broader topic. Family dinners are also the occasion to talk about an upcoming family decision such as the next vacation. Ask your children their opinion or what they think about a decision you made. Share a poem or a book you truly appreciated. Jokes can also be shared but be cautious to not hurt anyone.
4. Truly listen to your children. Unless asked, do not offer advices as children will be more willing to bring up what is bothering them if they do not get interrupted. Listen to their perspectives of the described situation. Praise your children if they did/say anything that they can be proud of. Point out your concerns/worries using “I statements”. For instance, instead of saying: “You can’t keep coming home so late. It is inconsiderate.”, say: “I feel worried when you come home so late. I wish you would call me.”
5. What to talk about? If you run out of topics of discussion, ask everyone to write on index cards possible agenda items. Then, pull out an index card when it is dinner time. Some topics may include ideas such as “Tell each person of the family why you are glad they are part of the family.”, “What do you think makes a person popular?”, or “If you could have a conversation with anyone in history, who would it be? What would you discuss?”
Having dinner all together after a busy day for everyone is a privileged time to reconnect with one another, share happy and difficult times of the day, discuss an important topic, or make a family decision. In any case, it is a way to express love and attention in constructive ways.
ENHANCING YOUR BABY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
In order to develop their brain the best way, babies need the presence of an adult who is responsive to their emotional and physical needs. Human babies are designed to develop by interacting with and observing loving and caring adults. However, it is essential to not focus exclusively on the baby as making every moment about her would put pressure on her and make her anxious.
Here are a few tools and resources to help enhance your baby brain:
1. Engage warmly with your baby throughout the day. By enjoying her, engaging with her, responding to her, showing her the world, and reassuring her when she is upset, then your baby receives the foundation of emotional security necessary for her intellectual development. Studies show that infants who are the most advanced intellectually, physically, and emotionally are the ones who have caregivers who are attentive, responsive, and warm.
2. Read to your baby. Reading to your baby has multiple benefits. By exposing her to the sound of your voice, it soothes her. It also helps develop feelings of emotional intimacy between your baby and yourself as well as increase her attention span and memory.
3. Talk to your baby. Involve her and speak to her as you move through your daily tasks. Babies learn language by listening to you and others use it. Soon, you will be able to check your child’s understanding of words. For instance, ask your baby to find her favorite toy or stuffed animal. If she turns toward it, she probably knows what it is. Make simple requests such as “Wave bye-bye”, “Give me a hug” or “Throw the ball” and observe her reaction.
4. Play brain development games. Make sure to make it interactive and age-appropriate. Remember to introduce your baby to sensory games, not just cognitive ones. You may sing to her, play pat-a-cake type games, massage her, play music of different kinds for her, or dance with her.
5. Let her be on her own. While babies do need plenty of interactions with their caregivers, they also need plenty of time to play with their toes, listen to noises in their environment, stare at the dust motes in a shaft of light, or just figure out how their own muscles work.
Quality time is not necessarily busy time. Babies don't benefit from over-stimulation. All babies need time to play and explore the world in the security of a loving and caring adult, but they also need time to occupy themselves without our interference. A healthy baby has access to both types of experiences.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.