Home > Daily Special

The One Thing You Can Do To Make Your Child Happy and Successful

By Hildie Westenhaver

I can already see your raised eyebrow and hear you muttering, “There isn’t one magic thing that we can do to make our children happy.” But there is! And, surprisingly, it doesn’t involve sports, music lessons or going to church.

It’s eating dinner together as a family at least four nights a week.

Roll your eyes all you want but eating together as a family matters a lot.

A lot.

It doesn’t matter what the food is, whether elaborate or simple. What matters is eating together with no electronics. Once the TV is turned on, all benefits of eating together go out the window. So eat and talk. That’s it. That’s the magic formula.

And what does this formula get you? Several studies have shown that children who eat dinner with their families more than four times each week smoke less (both cigarettes and marijuana), consume less alcohol and engage in fewer at-risk behaviors like taking drugs, violence or sexual activity. Family dinners have been found to be a more powerful deterrent against high-risk teen behaviors than even church attendance.  Yep, family dinners are THAT important. People can check next page, for the best alcohol treatment.

Occurrences of depression go down and grades go up. For school-aged kids, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art. Teens who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.

Eating disorders are reduced when the family eats together, and childhood obesity is lessened too (unless you’re a super great cook, I imagine). Young adults who ate regular family meals as teens are less likely to be obese and more likely to eat healthily once they live on their own.

Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading. Young kids learned 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud. Children who have a large vocabulary read earlier and more easily.

Here’s a pretty cool benefit too: family meals are often a representation of the ethnic, cultural, or religious heritage of the family.  As children participate in these cultural traditions, they begin to learn more about their heritage and their family’s history. A study from Emory University found that children who knew a lot about their family history, through family meals and other interactions, had a closer relationship to family members, higher self esteem, and a greater sense of control over their own lives.

But what if you have teenagers and you basically can’t stand each other? Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health found that even if family members are not very close to each other, having a meal together as a family reduces the risk for many troubling behaviors among teens. So grit your teeth, call a truce and think of some fun things to talk about  (what are the funniest memories of Grandma? What was the best family trip we ever took? Who has our weirdest neighbor been?)

All these amazing benefits for something that takes less than an hour. (Even less if you make quesadillas, our family’s favorite quick food.) You can’t get results like this from Tai Kwan Do or soccer! So take a look at your life and your schedule and see if you can’t make more time for something that really matters.

There are some fantastic ideas about making family dinners go more smoothly at The Family Dinner Project.


About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

3 thoughts on “The One Thing You Can Do To Make Your Child Happy and Successful”

  1. Thanks so much for your thoughts and the link to The Family Dinner Project. I always appreciate people talking about this super important topic! I grew up in a family that had "Food" as a sixth love language. We all took turns cooking for each other. We were dirt poor for so many years, but we almost always came together and ate something (even if that was tough stew meat cooked in yogurt and pickles, one of the creations my dad came up with one desperate night; he didn't believe in recipes and still doesn't). The research behind eating together as a family is kind of mind-blowing. Thanks for sharing the facts

  2. Thanks for a great post, Hilde! I so subscribe to this. Our family has had its share of ups and downs and I can see from hindsight the blessing family dinner was. It wasn't a major decision on our part. We were baby boomers and our families had always had dinner together…so we carried on.

    One family dinner tradition we started at a very difficult time was "build ups". We'd read a book about helping siblings get along and it proposed that you insist on "build ups" instead of "rip downs". I think some of the impact came from the fact that Dad was the force behind the implementation. But every night before leaving the dinner table everyone had to state a "build up" for each family member.

    Yes, sometimes someone would try a backhanded compliment, but they quickly learned it wouldn't fly. And sometimes they were a stretch and moderately insincere, but they work over time.

    Still to this day (the youngest is 30 and the oldest 41) when we are together for a reunion, someone will just naturally start buildups.

    Hooray for the family dinner!


Leave a Comment