Family Meals Strengthen Family Bonds

Family Meals Strengthen Family Bonds

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Can you see any relationship between how a child was treated at the family dinner table and years later, as an adult, problems that he or she encountered at work? I didn't see it either until I met a lady who lost jobs, one after another, because she couldn't get along with her coworkers.

For each job she lost, she found more reasons to blame others: "Those people don't like an outsider breaking into their own little clan"; "Bunch of arrogant males who can't stand a woman doing a men's job"; "They can't stand a Yankee" or "That woman hates my guts," etc.

The very first day she would start working at a place, she would feel singled out and under the scrutiny of her supervisors and coworkers. Within a few weeks, those feelings would grow so strong that she would either have a confrontation with her coworkers or simply walk out of the job in frustration.

The problem was that she could not stand people looking at her. But how could that be avoided? People do look at you when you are new. A new kid on the block is a fair game for everybody's curious looks. She said she understood that people watch a newcomer, but still there was something about being looked at that bothered her.

When people merely looked at her, she felt they were "staring" at her. Whenever she felt she was being stared at, a feeling of rage surged in her body. So, we explored her feelings about being stared at. She recalled that while growing up, she dreaded family mealtime because her father would sit at the head of the table and watch every movement of her and her siblings. No simple actions such as a side-glance at a sibling, shifting in the seat, expression of dislike of any food item or, swallowing the food too fast went unpunished.

For the father, family mealtime was a time to discipline children and make sure that they observed perfect table manners. The father accomplished this objective through fear. He intimidated the children by his threatening look.

So, this lady, fifteen or twenty years later, was still reacting to those angry and threatening eyes even in a bystanders' look of curiosity. When her coworkers merely looked at her, she felt criticized and picked on.

Family meals are times for enjoying the food and the company of one another. Dr. Robert Billingham, Professor of Human Development at Indiana University says, "Sitting down together to eat is the most important activity of family life. Only reading together comes close in importance."

Family meals provide an opportunity for children to learn social skills especially in the area of adult-child interaction. At the table, family members face one another and focus on the family itself rather than on something else. It is the time when adults and children talk to one another around the table as a group.

Dr. James Koval, of California State University at Long Beach says, "All families have conflicts. Family meals teach kids there is a safe place to come together."

Family meals not only serve to satisfy hunger, they can also generate positive side effects. A follow-up survey shows that children who eat as a family three or more times a week acquire a higher level of social skills than those who tend to eat separately.

Among families who eat together, both children and parents tend to eat healthier. They tend to consume more grains, fruits and vegetables. These food choices are carried onto the school campus as well. Such children make healthier food selection in the school cafeteria.

Family meals facilitate communication between children and parents, and offer moments of closeness and togetherness. Better communication and closer relationship between parents and children always create a positive spiral effect. For instance, it has been noted that in the families who eat together, children seem to have a higher level of verbal skills and make better scores on the standardized tests.

Children who feel loved and valued and listened to are less prone to peer pressure. Perhaps, that is the reason that children from more cohesive families develop fewer behavioral and substance abuse problems.

Family meals should be a time for humor, joyous celebration and catching up with each other. Such occasions should not be utilized for criticism and corrections.

Avoid power struggles with a "picky" eater. Give him/her a controlled choice. Say, for example, you are at the breakfast table and your child doesn't want to eat the food on his or her plate. Don't offer an open-ended choice such as, "What do you want?" If the child wants that chocolate bar from the fridge, you may have a problem. It is better to ask "Alright, would you like Cheerios or oatmeal porridge?"

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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