IT SOUNDS so simple, yet eating around a table for meal times can have an enormous effect on a child’s social skills, mental and physical health.
Yet as many of us are working more and more, with less and less time, teatime is just another chore - one that’s best dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.
But that’s the problem.
So many of us are eating quick, processed convenience foods in front of the telly that not only are we denying children wholesome grub, we’re also denying them wholesome conversation.
According to Sheffield Family Mediation expert Josie Walker, family meal times are integral to happiness in the home.
“By seeing dinner as something other than that few minutes to get the food into the family before rushing about once more could help more than just your digestive system. Taking time or making time to sit down together, eat and talk together, can transform the way the family communicates together and build stronger relationships. It can become the norm and a great part of family life.”
Eating tea around the table encourages children to talk about their day end develop important communication skills.
“It’s all about talking, well talking and listening: asking about your family’s day – what was the best bit? The worst bit? The bit they would change if they could? What annoyed them? Made them smile? What are they looking forward to tomorrow? What are they dreading?”
Questions such as these, Josie says, bring the family together. “By sitting down, having good conversations and finding out about what everyone is feeling that day, everyone feel listened to and valued. It can also be a good time to discuss other issues and be a great forum to help your children learn how to debate, how to talk through sticky issues, have different viewpoints without it blowing up into an argument.”
Josie’s job is to help families make amends during difficult times. She is Sheffield’s expert on social harmony. So what’s the secret? “Always listen carefully to what is being said and show that you understand your loved ones’ point, even if you don’t agree with it. Some conversations are difficult, such as over past events or politics, and it is important that in these cases people feel that they are being heard.”
Many family conversations erupt into rows because people haven’t been thoughtful in their choice of words or how they have put a point across. So, Josie says: “Choose your words carefully. Rather than saying “you always...” try, “you sometimes...”. Try to take the “accusations” to a minimal, so instead of saying “you hurt my feelings”, try stating things like “when you say that it hurts my feelings.”
Josie has spent her working life helping patch up difficult situations. She previously worked at the Abbeyfield Society, a charity offering independent living to older people managing houses from Yorkshire to Lancashire. Josie was responsible for running the houses, resident and staff care and mediating over issues.
And this - mediating between people - was the part of the job she loved most. In 2010 she took redundancy, retrained as a workplace and family mediator and set up Josie Walker Mediation.
“There is nothing more satisfying than going to work and helping people resolve issues and be able to move on in their lives, be it in the workplace or within families. It is especially satisfying to witness a ‘warring couple’ who are able to move forward and focus on the future for themselves, and most importantly their children. Giving their children a better future, and themselves one with less conflict.”
“Talking around meals around the table makes it normal to open up about problems or about what is good and bad about the day. If parents create a setting where it is normal for children to do that then it will be easier for them to open about bigger issues when they become teenagers. “
But the road the family peace isn’t long - it starts and ends at the kitchen table.