You might have gathered by now that I am a mother. Hardest and best job of my life so far. Some days it feels like the most natural and instinctive thing in the world, others more like a baptism of fire or an endless sequence of guilty, worry and internal questioning.
But the good thing about modern parenting is that there is a wealth of information and support out there to help you get it right. The bad thing about modern parenting is that there is a wealth of information and support out there to help you get it right AND it is often conflicting and contradictory!
But, with my love of research and fact, rather than reading the endless parenting blogs out there written by ‘experts’ and being drawn in by clickbait pins or articles on social media (5 ways in which you could be emotionally damaging your child, anyone?!), I try to limit the things I focus on to those articles born in actual and rigorous research, not just what some well meaning mummy blogger has to say from her own personal experience, which may or may not bear out as useful.
And in my quest for parenting perfection (joke!) I came across a piece of research recently which sort of blew my mind with how simple and yet how impactful the finding was, and how easy it is to implement into your child’s life. And you may well be doing this already.
So, I bet like me you are dying to know;
what’s the single best thing to do to guarantee the future success and happiness of your children?
Spend more time with them?
Praise them daily?
Give them a private education/ tuition?
Expand their world through travel & experiences?
More routines & discipline?
Offer a wide variety of extra curricular activities to improve all parts of their learning?
Start a fund for their university education?
A University of Michigan report that examined how American children spent their time between 1981 and 1997, discovered this;
The amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioural problems.
Having a regular family mealtime was more influential than the amount of time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.
The research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem.
If you’re not currently doing this, why not start? I appreciate with busy schedules it can be hard to get everyone around the table together. Children are often at school over lunchtime, so that’s out, and work and after school activities can eat into the evening.
We certainly find it a challenge. As well as weekday lunchtimes when Jake is at school, we don’t eat dinner with Jake Monday – Thursday either as we need to work and he goes to after school club until 5pm and is fed there. And Saturdays he has forest school which interferes with dinner time. So, our way of dealing with this is that
1. We always have dinner together Fridays and Sunday and we really prioritise this over any other social arrangements.
2. We always eat lunch together at the weekend
3. We sit down to breakfast every day, at the table and are usually sat together for 15-20 minutes
So of the 12 possible meals at home in a week, where he isn’t at school or after school club we eat 11 of them together, which doesn’t seem too bad. We also sit with Jake whilst he has snacks etc. before bed and chat with him which should have the same effect.
The research shows that just ONE meal a day is all it takes, sitting down with your child or children and taking 10-20 minutes to eat a meal together and talk (no TV in the background or screens, sitting together at a table where possible) – this is what can make the MOST difference in your child’s life. Forget better education, sports, other extra curricular activities, spending money on them. And the best thing is that for most people it is very achievable. It doesn’t matter if it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, it’s the time spend together, sharing and enjoying a meal and communicating that counts.