Family time when dinner is served (+ poll)

By Julia Proverbs

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Sara Dawkins never puts a meal aside for her children.

"I never save food. If they're not here there's no coming in later and having it warmed up. They get one meal. Everyone gets the same and you have to be here," the Welcome Bay mother of three said.

But they are unlikely to miss out, given that she makes family dinners a priority.


 


Scheduled around the drum-tutor career of husband Jed, dinner is served at the dining table every evening.

"We didn't always - not until we had children. We used to sit in front of the TV with it on our laps," Mrs Dawkins admitted.

But as soon as their first child was able to sit in a highchair a family tradition was born.

"I just make sure it works. The girls used to do dancing, so you fit it around activities. I don't like the kids to have too many activities. I'm not one of those mums that rushes around giving them their dinner in the car."

Dinner time was the only time the family came together, she said.

"As soon as the meal has finished the girls go in their rooms."

The Dawkins family take part in what is a dying tradition, according to a survey by Meat and Livestock Australia.

The survey of 1000 Australian parents found that 45 per cent let their children eat on the sofa, often in front of the TV, at least once during the week before being surveyed.

The survey also found parents were turning a blind eye to bad table manners, as long as children ate a nutritious, balanced meal.

Playing computer games, arguing with siblings, making a mess and eating in their underpants were all tolerated, according to the survey.

Eating dinner in their bedrooms was also allowed.

Mrs Dawkins said, while they often had the television on in the background during the news, none of her children - Millie, 16, Imogen, 14, and Elliott, 11 - were allowed technology at the table.

She "tried" to instill good manners.

"I'm not strict enough,' she said.

Food in the bedrooms was strictly forbidden. "Gosh no. I'm very strict about that. I don't want to find dirty plates under the beds. That's just being too laid back, letting go completely. I've got standards."

Tauranga family/child therapist Marjorie Douglas said she had seen young adults who didn't know how to use a knife and fork.

The constant use of technology and television was "the norm" for many parents of young children, who had grown up with it themselves.

"I've seen families where everyone has technology in front of them - children and parents. There is no communication eye to eye, human to human," she said.

Dinner time was sometimes the only time when families learned to get to know one another, Ms Douglas said.

"Sometimes children don't think their parents know them and probably they don't. There is a specialness about being together at the table with each other. When do we get to know each other as a family?" she asked.

Jackie Paine, Bay of Plenty regional co-ordinator of The Parenting Place, said eating together as a family was beneficial to children on many levels.

A United States survey of 2000 top-achieving students in high schools that found the only common factor among them was they ate family meals together was powerful evidence, she said.

"If kids grow up feeling valued, part of a team and that their voice is heard they are likely to succeed in life in general," Mrs Paine said.

She advised turning the television and all technology off during meal times and using "conversation starters" to get families talking.

"It makes a really big difference and the kids love it," she said. "The cool thing is that children then become very proficient at asking questions."

As children got older, with busier schedules, it was a case of planning when the family could get together for a meal.

"Whether it's breakfast on Saturday or lunch on Sunday," Mrs Paine said.

"It doesn't just happen. It has to be intentional."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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