The most amazing thing has happened over the past couple of weeks. PanKwake has actually joined Cookie Monster and me for breakfast…at the table!
I know that may not sound like a big deal to some of you but this child eats what she likes, when she likes and where she likes…usually in front of the television or computer. She has since the time she escaped her high chair. Even at nursery and school getting her to sit still and eat with the others was a major struggle…that often resulted in meltdowns. The only time she sat down to eat at a table were those rare times that she wanted to eat out. And then only child-friendly ones.
So this is quite a big deal to me.
Growing up I remember the family dinner table…Nanny, my mother, step-father, brother and me. We always sat down for the evening meal together. Breakfast in our house was a cup of coffee…cereal if you must. Lunches were usually at school or a sandwich in the summer. But every night around 5 we all knew where we belonged. I can almost hear the yell… ‘Terri Lynn, supper time.’
When the older children were little, I tried my best to enforce this rule too. Of course, modern life sometimes interfered…jobs or university. But we had the loveliest huge wooden dining table with chairs at both ends, even a captain’s one for the preacher. What made it special though was the benches on both sides…perfect for little kids. Ironically, the kitchen table at Cookie’s reminds me of it…but it does not have chairs, only benches.
And it is on those benches that PanKwake has been learning some truly important lessons these past couple of weeks. The art of ‘dinner conversation.’ That is an important skill to have and one that is not easy for an autistic child to master. They tend to drone on and on about their interests…rarely giving anyone else the chance to speak. But a meal is the perfect answer to that dilemma. Teaching her the back and forth volley of speak then eat…so the other person can respond. Cookie has been so patient too. I am sure he has learned way more than he ever wanted to know about Minecraft and Roblox.
But it is not just autistic children that can benefit from conversation around the dinner table. Harvard, Cornell and Purdue among others agree. I could not find it but I remember reading once (strangely enough I believe in Hilary Clinton’s It Takes a Village) about a study that followed children through out their school years from pre-school to college. Do you know what the single most important factor of success was? No, not family income, or couples versus single moms, or even the education level of the parents. It was whether or not they ate dinner as a family.
I did though find plenty of other studies that show other benefits of family meal times, including:
- Better vocabulary in young children
- Less anti-social behavior in teens
- Lower rates of obesity
- Less stress
- …and a higher opinion of parents.
Not bad for less than half an hour of your time…a bit more to cook of course but even that does not need to be elaborate.
Oh one thing…no electronics at the table…emergency calls only. And no demands either…is your homework done, room clean, that sort of thing. Those can wait. This is time for building up bonds not tearing them down. So keep it light and just enjoy these amazing human beings that you created.