Did you know that having dinner together as a family can improve your child’s quality of life? Research shows that these benefits continue from childhood well into adulthood.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not only an epidemiological crisis but a psychological one too, provoking anxiety, stress, and sadness. Family dinners will benefit your child’s mental, emotional, social, and physical well-being, but likely your well-being as a parent too. Here are 4 reasons why family meals are so developmentally important:
Creates a positive mindset
Family meals are correlated with significantly lower levels of depression in adolescents. The statistics show us that an increase in frequency of family meals leads to a decrease in depressive symptoms. Instead of sitting alone, holding their feelings inside, children have a forum to air anything troubling them. Consistency provides a sense of security.
Parental Pointers: Keep a set time daily in a range that works for your family. Remember the more family meals together the better! Engage your kids by asking them to set and clear the table. They might even be keen to help pick and prepare what they’d like to eat! In general, kids tend to be more engaged at the table if they’re involved in the process ahead of time.
Sitting down and eating together as a family provides an emotionally safe place for children and teens to learn the art of communication. Here, they can talk about their day and issues that have come up. They can then take the skills they learn at the dinner table and apply them to a number of settings, including conversations with teachers and friends. Better communication creates better relationships.
Parental Pointers: Open ended questions like ‘How was your day?’ tend to get vague responses like, ‘fine’. Try taking turns around the table, letting each person tell what their ‘rose (most positive experience) and thorn (most negative experience)’ was from their day. Here’s another activity that my brother’s family has used, and it often helps get the conversation started by sparking curiosity. Once every family member is seated at the table, each person shares one thing from their day that they’re grateful for. There were lots of giggles when they first started doing this activity, but it has slowly become a nightly tradition.
Healthier food choices
Sitting down with your children for dinner allows you to role model healthy food choices and portion sizes. It also allows you to observe your child’s eating patterns. Children end up eating from a wider variety of food groups and consuming fewer soft drinks. Overall, research tells us that there are lower rates of disordered eating amongst children who sit down to a healthy, family dinner.
Parental Pointers: Healthy doesn’t mean that everything has to be homemade from scratch (Heck no! Who has time for that?) Simply grabbing a meal from the freezer and adding a bagged salad could be a convenient balanced option. As a rule of thumb, talking about food in black and white terms tends to be confusing for kids. Food does not have to be ‘good and bad’, especially when it’s eaten in moderation. Snacks like chips and chocolates can be described as ‘fun food’ rather than ‘junk food’ which tends to be a more balanced message for children.
Improved physical fitness
Children who grow up in homes with regular family dinners have been found to participate in higher levels of physical fitness and activity. This may be partially linked to the higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy that result from eating with the fam.
Parental Pointers: Even going for a short walk together, around the block after dinner can help stretch out those cobwebs from being in quarantine and in online school all day. Let kids choose which route to take, only rule is you can’t choose the same route twice! Play eye spy as you go, or even work a simple scavenger hunt into it e.g First one to find a pinecone is the ‘Star of the Walk’!
Overall, regular family meals make for happier, healthier, and more confident kids!
During the pandemic, setting aside together time with your children is important because it sends the message that they’re a priority. It helps them feel valued, understood, and cared for. Older children and teenagers have different developmental needs than adults and therefore social distancing has a different emotional impact on them than it does us. They’re at a stage where social connections and separation from parents is developmentally healthy. Because of covid-19, many of these social interactions have changed or been taken away from them. For children of all ages, family time provides a healthy opportunity for them to talk about how they’re feeling and for you to observe and listen for changes in their mood, engagement level, clothing, friends, and grades.
Of course, these benefits flow both ways! There are benefits for parents too. Studies suggest that feasting together creates bondedness. These same studies even say that social eating is part of human evolution that came about as a mechanism for enabling the process of social bonding. Eating with other humans more frequently is tied to feeling happier, trusting others, having more friendships, and being more content with life overall. While we can’t wine and dine with our friends during quarantine, we can feast with our household tribe.
Grief is complex.
Usually, it’s a time to be present with those who share our grief. During the pandemic, that norm is complicated by the limits on how close we can keep our loved ones. This presents us with an interesting challenge: to reimagine and evaluate how we mourn in this time of crisis. I thought it would be an appropriate time to present an approach to grief that brings us closer to ourselves when we cannot be close to our loved ones.
Notice that you’re grieving. Start with how you are feeling. Grief comes with a complicated array of emotions. Take note of the layers and complexity of these emotions, of whether they sway or hold steady. Just notice them and let that be the first step toward reflecting on whom or what you’ve lost.
2) Be Patient
As you identify the feelings attached to the loss, it is important to be patient and go easy on yourself. You share a story with the individuals in your life. Within these stories are moments of happiness, joy, pain, and anger. Remind yourself that as a consequence of this, emotions may arise that could make us feel ashamed or guilty. Give yourself time to sit with the complicated array of emotions.
3) Care for yourself
In times of loss it is easy to get caught up in the work that comes along with it. It’s important to remind ourselves to take a second and ensure we are practicing our own self-care routines. Remind yourself that even though you are caring for others, you also need time to rest, grieve and sit with your loss.
Today marks the 2020 US election. 😱
Okay, take a deep breath.
Now, as a Canadian company, you may think… well, why are you thinking/writing/worried about the US election?
A couple reasons. First, we deliver a ton of mental health training in the US and have a ton of American clients. Second, personally, I consider the US my second home having lived and worked there. Third, we can’t deny that this is a global moment or reckoning of the kind of world that we want to build.
While that sounds heady, it’s not really. This election has very real consequences for us in Canada, the kinds of behaviour that’s normalized among our leaders, and the validation (or rebuttal) of the worst human impulses.
Feeling anxious yet? If you are (like me), here’s what we can all do today…
Trust our gut
Over the past four years, we’ve been exposed to a firehose of hate, division, fear-mongering, alienation, and cruelty in a way that was previously unfathomable. Many of us have become addicted to staying up to date on each development (see John Mulaney’s bit on comparing the Trump Whitehouse to a horse in a hospital). The emotional scars of the past four years are immense, let alone the anticipation of an election that could make this chapter history.
All of this is to say, there’s no need to feel guilt or shame in how you feel about this election. This anxiety runs deep. So trust whatever you’re feeling — because you’re feeling it with good reason.
Take any action
This kind of nervous-jittery-anxiety is best countered by taking civic action. What kind of action? Well, anything really, so long as you are using that same fire that’s within you right now for good.
Write something on Facebook about how you’re feeling about today. WhatsApp your American friends and ask how tensions are in their community. Use this as an opportunity to reconnect with old peers or friends. Moments of collective anxiety are ripe for reconnection. Take advantage of that.
If you’re hungry for more, shift your focus to what’s local, even if you’re in Canada. Know that crosswalk in your neighbourhood that’s dangerous? Write to your counsellor. Know that provincial proposal that’s frustrating you? Sign a petition. Know that issue you’ve been meaning to learn more about? Dive into it. Action beats inaction. Choosing our focus is an act of control. And when we feel a sense of control, our anxiety can be tamed.
Limit the scrolling and reloading
Refreshing CNN or FiveThirtyEight all day won’t make a difference. Nor will scanning Twitter incessantly. The results will come in as they do (or don’t… looking at you Pennsylvania!). Make a plan to consume coverage in a measured way and stick to it. That means, for example, checking out the news once an hour for five minutes. Later tonight when results start coming in, pick a channel you’ll watch and set a window for when you’ll tune in. Don’t be afraid to break up that CNN time with something funny — like an episode of It’s Me or the Dog.
Find solace in like-minded voices
I’ve found a great deal of comfort in the content from Crooked, the media juggernaut launched by ex-Obama staffers that include podcasts like Pod Save America. On these big nights, they do something called the “Group Thread” where they broadcast their own Slack channel with a feed from MSNBC on YouTube. Their team shares their candid, hilarious reactions to each development in a way that humanizes the profundity of the moment. It’s a great normalizer, reminding us that if you’re outraged, scared, or hopeful that there are millions of people out there just like you. If you’re looking for something lighter, Steven Colbert is doing a long livestream over on Showtime. And if you’re looking for something insightful, The Daily is doing their first-ever live show starting at 4pm EST.
Accept that we’re not done yet
Regardless of what happens, tonight won’t be the end of the past four years or the messes that it’s caused. There will be uncalled races, heightened tensions, and a — at a minimum — a president that won’t be out of office until January. Accept that there’s still a lot to happen beyond this evening — and believe that you have more control over your anxiety than you might think.
And if you need support at any time in the aftermath of tonight, we’re always here for you.
“So, here you are. Too foreign for home. Too foreign for here, never enough for both”. The first time I read this quote, feelings of sadness and confusion splashed over me and I suddenly felt like I didn’t belong. At that time, it would’ve been my second year since I had left my home country, where I now felt like a visitor. It took over four years to find my own place, that happy medium that combined elements from my native culture and from the new culture that I’m still trying to call my “home”. Feeling out of place was one the most challenging experiences I’ve had to endure but it certainty taught me some valuable lessons along the way.
If you’re someone who recently left home in pursuit of bigger and better opportunities and struggling to find your place, here are some things to consider to help you cope with feelings of loss:
Recognize the symptoms. Is it loneliness? Homesickness? Sadness? Nostalgia? Recognizing and naming your symptoms can help you understand where these feelings are coming from and allow you to have control over how they affect your daily functioning. It’s important to understand that feeling sad doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed. Recognize that this feeling can be situational and doesn’t have to impact the rest of your day. It’s okay to feel sad and nostalgic when thinking about your past life; in fact, it’s expected. However, know that you can also move past it.
Be present. Oftentimes, you may find yourself daydreaming about your old life and won’t realize how much we’re missing out. It’s true that going back in time brings us a sense of comfort and induces a familiar feeling but it also keeps us from enjoying our new surroundings. Practice living in the moment and keep an open mind. Rather than fearing the differences, welcome them and think of much you can grow. As someone who enjoys the routine and isn’t particularly fond of change, this was a challenge for me as I had to train myself to live in the present. It’s incredible the things you learn when you allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone.
Find a purpose. Setting daily goals will help shift your focus and enhance feelings of productivity. These can be anything that will make you feel like you’re working towards something. For me, it was choosing to focus on my health and incorporating a daily workout routine while tracking and monitoring my results. Did it help me fall in love with the new environment? Probably not but it was a reason for me to get out of bed every morning and distract myself from negative thoughts.
Get involved. Definitely easier said than done. Personally, this is something I dreaded. I kept being told to involve myself in social events and improve my network but what does that even mean? Do I show up at random places and initiate a conversation? Do I connect with someone on LinkedIn and hope for the best? It took me months before I had the courage to sign up for an event I had found on the internet. Did I make new friends and kept in touch? Not really but I saw it as a personal achievement back then and overtime, attending events and talking to people had become a less torturous task. If you’re someone who doesn’t naturally blend in well with people, it’s okay. Don’t let that be a reason to keep you away from new opportunities and instead see it as a way to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone; even if that means forcing yourself to attend an event at least once every two months.
Keep familiar things around you. As we integrate into the new environment, we may find ourselves slowly stepping away from our cultural roots. That’s totally normal! If you’re ever feeling homesick, do something that reminds you of home (i.e. listen to music, eat your favorite meal). As you make new friends, try introducing your favorite foods to them to strengthen the connection between familiar sources of comfort and new sources of emotional support.
Allow times to take its course. Be patient. You’re not expected to adapt right away and it may take you a few months to a few years to find your place. In the meantime, try to enjoy the differences and accept the hardships. Allow yourself to grow and recognize the changes you’re making. Remember that change also means growth.
If there’s one thing to take away from this blog post, it’s realizing that finding your place is a combination of time and hard work rather than one or the other.