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Having Regular Family Dinners Can Improve Your Child’s Grades and Emotional Health

Some Thoughts at Thanksgiving about the Importance of Having Family Dinner Year Round for Better Emotional Health and Grades

By Tom Kahan, Study Wizards Academic Co-Director

At Thanksgiving time I often think not only about the wonderful Thanksgiving dinners I had with my family as a child but also about how wonderful it was to have dinner with my family regularly all year round. My mom was an awesome cook but I never realized that I was getting much more than her delicious cooking until I came across research which shows a clear link between families getting together for dinner each night and good grades, overall happiness and tighter family bonds. Now maybe this isn’t all that surprising to other moms and dads who grew up like I did with family dinners every night. But the fact though that research shows academic excellence correlates with daily family dinners is I admit a little surprising – at least at first but it’s important to consider.

According to studies from the University of Illinois, the Harvard Graduate School, Columbia University, and Readers Digest (just to name a few), students that eat dinner each night with their family:

  • Have a higher likelihood of earning A’s and B’s on all of their courses
  • Have a measurably improved emotional stability, mental toughness, and social skills
  • Are able to create better peer relationships
  • Are less likely to begin smoking, drinking, or taking drugs
  • Have much higher self-esteem, self-confidence, self-motivation skills, and believe their parents are truly proud of them.

Assuming the TV and phones are off and/or put away—very important, especially nowadays — some of the most important skills our children can develop at family dinners are improved conversation, communication and vocabulary skills. This is especially true if we parents focus on positive conversations, with praise for both effort and results, while also asking our children about what they have learned and discovered during the day, and if possible, tying those to our children’s goals. It’s also an excellent time to talk about any issues they might be having at school — or at home for that matter, if you think an all-family discussion is best. A bonus: discussions about current events and history can help our students in those areas as well.

The University of Illinois conducted a study of 120 boys and girls between the ages of seven and 11, and found that the children that performed best with standardized testing – particularly when it came to mathematics and reading – not only enjoyed a dinner as a family each night but also helped in the kitchen!

Cooking isn’t just a helpful and healthy life skill for children. Cooking also helps our children develop math with measuring ingredients, reading comprehension by “forcing” them to understand the recipe, and lab skills, moving through sequential steps to create something (hopefully tasty!) from the sum of the parts. Cooking family recipes, especially with mom, dad, grandma or grandpa also helps children hear family stories and get a deeper feeling for their family and ethnic roots, history and traditions – not to mention home cooking helps them develop healthier eating habits!

Granted in our busy modern lives, family dinners every night are not always possible but the more family dinners you can make happen, the better it is — for your children’s relationship with you, themselves, their school work and their peers.