The Family Dinner and Other Important Childhood Moments
An interview with Mary Burke, M.D., Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Specialist
In the current two-job household, parents and children spend increasingly less time with each other. More than ever, it’s important for parents to create quality time with their kids.
Because children naturally want to please their parents and feel appreciated, it’s important that you share experiences and activities that you both enjoy.
Good activities include games, cooking, gardening, art projects, playing ball, making music, and reading aloud or telling stories. If you have a special skill, share it with them.
These experiences should be free from any performance expectations. Yet children also need to learn to do things that make them feel proud and confident. Take time to admire their work.
“This store of positive shared memories is like a reserve of good feeling,” says Mary Burke, M.D. “It will see you and your children through difficulties. “Even playing 20 minutes of Sorry! at the end of the day allows you and your child to connect and brings down the anxiety level of the household. It used to be that kids and parents shared the same experiences daily. Now they often spend their days in separate environments. To compensate, it’s important to reconnect with your kids every day, and turn off everyone’s cell phones during this time.”
Every moment you engage with your child is an opportunity to increase closeness and communication. Family dinners are no exception. “Meals are nurturing, emotionally and physically,” Burke explains. “Animals naturally gather together to eat. It’s a time of enhanced social bonding.”
Sharing meals also can help create routine, which calms and soothes children. “Kids rely on their parents to keep their day predictable and appropriate to their needs. This includes regular, healthy meals shared with their reliable and beloved family. Children who are deprived of this routine become anxious, fretful, and prone to temper outbursts,” says Burke.
Turn Off the TV
Because watching TV is overstimulating, turn it off. TV doesn’t build empathy and understanding between children and parents, and therefore doesn’t count as quality time together.
“Fifty years of research has shown that excessive media use – more than one hour daily—is harmful to children,” Burke insists. “In fact, the risk of TV use leading to aggression is greater than the risk of secondhand smoke leading to cancer.”
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