Benefits of eating together as a family

5 benefits of eating together as a family

Quick question – how often do you sit down as a family and eat a meal?

I know we don’t do it anywhere near as much as we should.  Mainly due to the fact that my children are hungry and ready to eat their dinner by about 4.30 every day, and my husband is still at work at that time.  It just doesn’t work for us to all eat dinner together during the week.

But I know we need to make more of an effort to find a way to sit down together for more meals.  I’ve done a bit of digging around and found some really interesting points about the benefits of families eating meals together, and it’s definitely inspired me to make sure we do it more often.

Here are my top 5 benefits of eating together as a family on a regular basis: 

5 benefits of eating together as a family (4)

 

1) Your children will eat better
Various studies have shown that children who regularly eat meals with their families tend to eat a healthier, more varied diet.  One particular study carried out in 2000 found that the 9-14 year olds who ate dinner with their families had diets that were higher in loads of key nutrients like iron and calcium.If your children are fussy eaters then sitting and having dinner together regularly could help to increase the number of foods they eat and enjoy.  A study carried out in 2003 found that children who were offered sweet red pepper every day for 8 days said they liked it more (and were eating more of it) than children who were offered a reward for eating the pepper.  This research seems to suggest that constantly exposing our children to new foods, without pressure from threats or rewards, will help them learn to try, and like, different things, even if they don’t like them at first.So, eating dinner together, and offering our children new foods to try each time can gradually help them to start eating a more varied, healthy diet. 

2) They’ll improve their vocabulary
Assuming you don’t sit in stony silence at mealtimes, you can help increase your children’s vocabulary by eating dinner together.  Studies have found that chatting together over dinner results in children knowing, and using, more words than average.

Not only that, but they also know six times more rare words (by which they mean words that children don’t typically use) than children who don’t eat meals with their parents.

 

3) You can tackle bullying
Bullying is something that most children will be exposed to in one way or another while growing up, and now there’s also cyber-bullying to deal with.  It’s easier than ever for children to bully each other, and perhaps harder than ever for parents to prevent it.

What research has found, though, is that eating meals together as a family can actually be helpful in recognising that bullying is going on, and addressing it.

Regularly sitting down as a family gives parents a chance to pick up on warning signs that their child is being bullied, and to provide support to help get the situation resolved.

 

4) You’ll form closer family relationships
We all lead such busy lives, that taking time out to sit down together and share a meal and a chat can be a great way to deepen family relationships.  Studies have found that families who do often eat together are more honest and open with each other, and that the children are more likely to turn to their parents with any problems they might have.

 

5) The whole family will be happier
Research carried out with American teenagers found that those who regularly eat with their parents are more likely to be emotionally strong, and less likely to experience mental health problems.

They were also found to have good communication skills and manners, most likely through learning by their parents’ example.

Interestingly, the results don’t just apply to children.  Studies have also found that Mothers who eat with their families are happier and more relaxed than Mothers who don’t.

 

Those are my top 5 benefits of eating together as a family, but there are also a few other things that I think are worth noting to really get the best out of doing it:

 

It doesn’t have to be dinner.  If you find that your lifestyle really doesn’t allow you to sit down with your children for dinner every night, then it might be worth seeing if you can share another meal together instead, like breakfast.

 

Get everyone involved.  Get your children sitting at the table as early on as possible, so they’re exposed to all the benefits from a young age.  I find that booster seats that fit to kitchen chairs are a great alternative to high-chairs, as you can push them right up to the table so that even babies and toddlers can be part of the action.

 

Keep it light.  Family mealtimes should be relaxed and fun.  If you have young, fussy eaters you don’t want dinner to become a battleground, so try offering different foods with no pressure, alongside food they know and like.  And with older children keeping things light will encourage them to feel more comfortable opening up to you.

 

Limit distractions.  Most of the benefits of eating meals together comes from the conversations that occur during the meal, so having the tv blaring at the same time will have a negative impact.  So when you sit down for dinner, turn off the tv and keep phones and tablets away from the table.

 

Researching and writing this post has really made me think about how I do need to make more of an effort to plan our meals so that we can all sit and eat together as often as possible.  I know that on weekdays it just won’t work for us to try and eat dinner as a family, but, if I get a bit more organised, I can see how I could change our mornings a bit to make sure that I sit at the table with the children each day for breakfast.

And there really is no reason why we can’t eat lunch or dinner as a family at the weekends, I just need to get in the habit of doing it, but there are enough benefits to make it well worth it!

 

One thing I will say though, is that I don’t think parents should feel guilty if they aren’t able to sit down together for a meal every day.  A lot of the benefits I’ve found seem to be a result of time spent together, being relaxed and chatting openly with each other, and I think you can create a lot of that away from the table.  So maybe you spend a few minutes each night before bed, chatting with your child about their day, or take a little walk every day as a family and discuss what’s going on in everyone’s lives.

As long as you’re creating a space for open conversation then I think you can still reap a lot of the benefits.

 

But if you can find a way to have regular meals together, so much the better!

stop offering false hope to parents of babies who don't sleep

Maybe we need to stop offering false hope to parents of babies who don’t sleep.

For the first 4 months of my daughter’s life if someone asked me ‘how is she in the nights?’, I would answer ‘brilliant…for now’.

See, at the beginning she would sleep for a good 5 hour stretch every night.  But I just knew it wouldn’t last.  I knew that something would come along and it would all go to pot.   And that something turned out to be the 4 month sleep regression.

It was crazy, in the space of about a week she went from sleeping these lovely long stretches at night to waking up every 2-3 hours (at best).  On our worst nights she woke up pretty much every hour.  And each time she woke, she fed.

This carried on until she was about a year old and I finally managed to cut out her night feeds.  She still rarely sleeps all through the night, but the days of 2-hourly wake ups are behind us.

Those 8 months were some of the longest, hardest months I’ve ever had.

There were days where I was so tired I felt dizzy.

I constantly craved caffeine and sugar.

A lot of exhausted tears were shed.

And one thing that really didn’t help?  False hope!

offer false hope parents babies don't sleep (1)

When you tell people that your baby is waking a lot in the night, they’ll more often than not offer you some advice.  And the internet is full of suggestions and miracle cures.

And you get your hopes up.  You start to believe that your baby will sleep better if you just do this one thing.

The thing is, some of the advice will work for some babies, but not for others.  Sometimes you can try everything under the sun and still get nowhere, because your baby just isn’t a ‘sleeper’.

And sometimes, the advice being handed out isn’t even right.

One big thing that we hear a lot is that your baby will start to sleep for longer stretches if you switch them to formula, or start feeding them solid foods.

And I remember reading this and being told this and really getting my hopes up that Nerys would sleep better once she got to 6 months and was starting to eat solids.

But, it made absolutely no difference to us.  I would give her a bowl of cereal before taking her up for her bath, in the hope that it would fill her tummy and get her to sleep for longer.  But it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

So I was really quite relieved to read this research from Dr. Amy Brown at Swansea University that found that switching to formula or giving solid foods had no effect on how many times babies wake in the night.

The study involved asking over 700 mothers with babies aged 6-12 months how often their baby woke up each night, and whether or not they fed them each time.

Dr Brown found that “there was no difference in the number of times babies woke up dependent on whether they were breast or formula fed, how many feeds they had in the day or how many solid meals they ate.”

So, basically, no matter what you feed your baby if they’re going to wake in the night, they’re going to wake in the night.

And I think there’s some comfort in that.

I mean, it’s not what you want to read at 3am when you’re desperate for an answer (and some sleep), but there is some comfort in knowing that it’s just the way it is.

You can easily drive yourself crazy by worrying about what you’ve done wrong to make your baby a ‘bad sleeper’ and putting together plans of attack to solve the problem based on bits of advice you’ve read.  But maybe it isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed.  Maybe it’s just the way it is.  Just the way your baby is.

I know that my approach in the end was to try my best to just accept the sleepless nights.  To steer into the skid.

It’s not a miracle cure or a perfect solution to your sleep problems, but here’s what helped get me through it:

  • Accepting the situation and keeping in mind that, one day, it would improve.

 

  • Coffee.  Lots of coffee.  And sweet things.  My body was craving sugar and energy, and while I’m sure there are healthier ways to get what I needed I was too tired to do more than grab a handful of skittles.

 

  • Having other people to talk to who were going through the same thing.  This is huge.  A good friend of mine was dealing with the same thing as me at the same time, and seeing her every morning on the school run and comparing stories from the previous night (and knowing I wasn’t in it alone) really helped get me through.

 

  • Taking naps.  Whenever and wherever I could, I would shut my eyes.  And at the weekend I would head back to bed for a good few hours and let my husband have quality time with the kids so I could catch up on some sleep.

 

  • Netflix.  When Nerys woke up for a feed in the night I would grab the ipad and prop it up in bed next to me and at least be entertained while she fed (and fed and fed).  I got through all of Prison Break, Orange is the new black and Charmed (along with few other shows) in those 8 months of endless night-feeds.

So those are my thoughts on the whole thing, and my advice for getting through it.

I’d love to know what other people think about this.  If you had/have a baby who wakes a lot in the night, have you found any advice useful, or did it just give you false hope?

Parenthood and the spotlight effect

Feel like the whole world is watching you?  (Parenthood and the spotlight effect)

When you have a baby you’re suddenly faced with so many things that you have to learn how to do.  

It can take a long time to feel comfortable and confident tackling all the tasks that parenthood demands of us.  And while we’re finding our feet it can really feel like everyone and his mother is watching us and judging our abilities as parents.

A lot of things, like changing nappies for example, we can practice in the safety of our own homes before we have to potentially do it in front of other people.  But eventually we have to venture out into the world and in front of witnesses!

I’ve definitely had several moments when I’ve felt awkward and like I’m being watched while I’m out with my children.

The first few times I went out to baby group after Nerys was born and I had to attempt to get her safely into a stretchy wrap I felt really self-conscious.  I felt as if I was drawing attention to myself with this huge length of fabric.  I felt like the baby-wearing pros were watching and wondering if I had a clue what I was doing!

Then I had to face something I was really worried about – breastfeeding in public!  Even in the breastfeeding-friendly atmosphere of baby group I was still unbelievably self-conscious.  Especially because, in those early weeks, Nerys was a very messy feeder and I had a tendency to end up covered in milk!  I didn’t want to use a cover, but also really didn’t want to end up flashing the room, so I moved as quickly as I could to get her latched on!

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the parents who are bottle feeding who worry so much about being seen and judged by the breastfeeding mums that they would rather leave than pull out a bottle.  My son was formula-fed from 2 weeks and I was lucky enough to feel confident in my decision that this was what was best for our family and so never had any problems feeding him in public, but I know that some women find this really hard.

There are so many other times that we feel like people are staring at us when we’re out in the world.  

When you head out on the school run with unwashed hair and weetabix smeared on your clothes.  Or when your toddler is pitching a fit in the supermarket when you won’t buy them any chocolate.  Or even when you take your baby out without a hat on a chilly day.

But it turns out, we might be worrying unnecessarily.  We might just be falling victim to the spotlight effect.

Parenthood and the spotlight effect

The Spotlight Effect is the psychological term for our tendency to believe that more people notice things about you than actually do.  

So, while we might think that all the other parents at the school gates have noticed that the baby is still in her pyjamas, chances are only one or two of them actually did.

People in general are really egocentric, meaning that we’re basically the centre of our own universes.

This doesn’t mean that we all think we’re great and so everyone must be looking at us, more that we’re so used to seeing the world from our own perspective that we believe other people must do the same.

We are so aware of the fact that we’ve got baby food splattered on our top that we assume that other people must be aware of it too, when in reality they don’t even know that the stains exist and are, in fact, much more preoccupied with their own appearance to even pay much attention to ours!

This quote from a study carried out at Cornell University sums it up really well:

“Strangers, colleagues, and even friends rarely have the luxury of devoting their full attention to either our triumphs or our slips….They are typically busy managing their own actions and appearance and the impressions they hope to make.”

Makes sense really, if we’re preoccupied with our own lives, then it does follow that other people are preoccupied with theirs!

So next time you’re anxious about having to feed your baby in public, or getting a newborn in a fancy sling or just leaving the house with no make up and hair that needs a wash, don’t worry too much about it – people aren’t looking at you half as much as you think they are!

What are your experiences with this?  When have you worried that everyone is looking at  you?


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7 days to a happier you

7 days to a happier you

At the end of another long week, how do you generally feel?

If you’re not feeling as happy as you’d like, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!  I’ve been doing a lot of research into happiness and joy recently, working out what little things we can do to up our happiness levels.

There are lots of things we can do to increase our happiness in the long term, but sometimes it can be hard to know where to start.  So I have a bit of a challenge for you.  Over the next week, try these 7 different things to bring a bit of extra happiness to your life.

7 days to a happier you

 

Starting this weekend, try my suggested activity for each day and see if you feel happier by the end of the week!

Here we go:

Saturday 

Give a friend five £1 coins and get them to kind them in random places around your house.  Think under a sofa cushion, in your coat pocket, in your junk drawer (we all have one right?), or in your jewellery box.

Studies have shown that finding money unexpectedly really works to make us feel happier, and this way the chances of you coming across a surprise bit of money are greatly increased!

You could get your kids involved in this one instead of a friend if you want, but be warned that the coins will end up in REALLY random places.

 

Sunday

Have a lazy Sunday morning cwtch-fest.

Bundle the whole family into your bed for a bit for lots of cuddles; you’ll get loads of oxytocin flowing which makes you feel lovely and relaxed and happy!

 

Monday

Work to your strengths.

There was a study carried out at Harvard University where volunteers were asked to identify their strongest trait and then use it in a new way every day for a week.  The volunteers reported feeling significantly happier at the end of the week and, even better, the results lasted for six months!

So, have a think about what your greatest strength is and think of how you can use it more every day.

Are you a kind person?  Maybe you can help someone carry their shopping to their car, pop some money in the charity tin at the till, or simply shoot the Mum with the screaming toddler a sympathetic “I’ve been there” smile!

 

Tuesday

Smile!

Beat that Tuesday feeling (is it just me who feels that Tuesdays are a bit of a non-day?!) by smiling.  Even if you don’t really feel like doing it, smiling really does make you feel happier.  Michelle from The Joy Chaser wrote a post all about how it works, explaining that “when you feel happy, your brain produces endorphins and sends signals to your facial muscles to trigger a smile.  The smile tells our brains we’re happy and creates a feedback loop that keeps the process going”.

So even if you feel a bit silly doing it, put a big smile on your face and see how much happier you really do start to feel!

Smile to feel happier

 

Wednesday

Get moving.

I know, you’ve heard it before, but getting some exercise really is a great way to increase your happiness.  Getting out for a brisk walk on your lunch break (or to the park with the kids) will stimulate your brain’s production of dopamine which increases our feelings of pleasure and happiness.

But, did you know that the way you walk can affect your mood?!

In the same way that smiling (even if you don’t feel like it) can make you feel happier, walking in a bouncy, happy way (even if you feel a bit blue) can make you feel better.

So put a bit of zing in your step, after a short while you’ll start to feel as bouncy and happy as your walk!

 

Thursday

Share a ‘Throwback Thursday’ photo.

Before you choose one to post, take a bit of time to go through your old photos, reminiscing about happy times from your past.  Studies have shown that thinking about happy times boosts serotonin levels in your brain, which has been linked to decreases in depression.

Make even more of an impact on your happiness by writing a little post about the good time you had when the photo was taken – processing your emotions through writing has been found to help you feel less distressed

 

Friday

Change your bed sheets.

End your week on a happiness high by climbing into a bed made up with lovely fresh, clean bedding.  In a research project, two-thirds of people said that sleeping in a freshly made bed was at the top of their list of things that made them feel great.

So, there you have it, a week of ways to increase your happiness.  Are you game to give it a try?  

Try this trick to improve your relationship with your partner

Try this one little trick to improve your relationship

Relationships are wonderful.  

They really are.

But, they’re not easy.  You sometimes need to put a little bit of work in to keep them on track.

This little tip though, is a pretty easy and fun way to help improve things in your relationship.

Try this one little trick to improve your relationship

Sit down and watch a romantic film together!

Researchers at the University of Rochester carried out a study of couples in the early stages of marriage and found that divorce rates were cut in half for couples who watched romantic films together and then talked about them afterwards.

Pretty impressive.

The study looked at couples in their first 3 years of marriage and found that watching a film every week that has a romantic relationship as a main part of the plot and then discussing it afterwards was as effective at preventing divorce as other, more intensive relationship therapies.

Now, the key seems to be the discussion afterwards, where the newly-weds would answer specific questions about the couple in the film and how they dealt with various issues.

They were encouraged to discuss if they dealt with things the same way as the film couple.

It seems to me that the main thing to take away from this is the importance of talking openly and honestly with our partners about our relationships, and to acknowledge how we might sometimes handle things the wrong way and work to resolve issues in a healthier way.

So, if you feel like your relationship could do with a bit of tlc, try putting on a romcom and then having a bit of chat about it afterwards.  Sounds like a pretty painless way to start communicating again.

Unless you’re like my husband and really can’t stand those kind of films, in which case, think a little outside the box.  We don’t watch any of my collection of romcoms together, but we did watch all of How I met your mother together – perfect for sparking discussions about relationships!

And remember, the key here really is the discussions afterwards, if you can find any way to start talking about couples and how they might deal with various issues then you’re on to a winner.

So what are your thoughts on this?  Do you watch these kinds of films together as a couple?  Do you naturally tend to discuss relationships (fictional or otherwise) together?

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com
Get a happier less anxious you with oxytocin

6 ways to boost your oxytocin levels (and get a happier, less anxious you!)

Have you had a good oxytocin fix lately? 

If you’ve read my previous post about making your mornings happier by making time for a good hug with someone, then you’ll have an idea of how amazing this happy hormone is!

Oxytocin has some real super powers, like boosting your immune system, reducing anxiety and lowering your blood pressure.  So, how can we all get more of the good stuff?

Here are 6 ways to get you started on getting more oxytocin in your day:

Get a happier less anxious you with oxytocin 

1) Have a good cuddle, get a massage or stroke your cat/dog.

Basically, any kind of physical contact is great for getting the oxytocin flowing, but the more you do it the better, so a nice long hug from a loved one, a 5 minute snuggle on the sofa with your cat or a pampering hour spent having a massage should do the trick!

2) Give some money away.

Studies have found that showing compassion in a visceral way (so, doing it because your gut feeling about it is good, rather than there being a logical explanation for doing it), like giving money away, is linked to higher levels of oxytocin.

So you might have a charity that you just feel an affinity with – go donate a bit of money to them.  Or, for a real feel-good hit, hide some money about town for strangers to find, random-acts-of-kindness-style!

3) ‘Like’ some of your friends’ post and photos on Facebook.

In the same way that hugging releases oxytocin, so do all sorts of other kinds of social interaction, including getting stuck in to a good Facebook session.

Researchers have found that we get a dose of oxytocin after spending time on Facebook and Twitter, most likely down to the fact that ‘liking’ and commenting on our friends’ photos and status updates makes us feel more connected to them,

4) Go for a walk outside.

This one shouldn’t be a surprise, we’ve been told time and time again how great gentle exercise is for boosting our moods.  And studies have shown that going for a walk outside in nature is associated with increased levels of oxytocin.  If you’re feeling more adventurous, then grab a friend and go exploring – it’s been found that going on adventures with people helps to make us feel more bonded to them!

5) Listen to some soothing music.

Ok, so this one is also quite logical, I mean, taking some time out and listening to soothing music is bound to make you feel relaxed!  And the reason it makes you relaxed, is because it prompts the body to produce more oxytocin!

There was a study carried out on patients who were recovering from open heart surgery, that found that when they listened to soothing music there was an increase in the levels of oxytocin in their blood.  Meaning they were less stressed and healed more quickly – pretty amazing.

6) Eat some eggs and a banana.

Eggs and bananas have both been linked with increased levels of oxytocin.  So, scrambled eggs followed by a banana for breakfast will set you up for a great day!  Or you could give these banana pancakes a try for the same effect, and you get bonus happy points if you add some chocolate chips for a dopamine hit!

If you like this post, then you might also like these:
6 reasons to squeeze more hugs into each day
Try this one little trick to start your day feeling happy

Lets be social – come and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three
Share the Joy linky at TheJoyChaser.com
Reasons to hug more every day

6 reasons to squeeze more hugs into each day

Earlier in the week I wrote a post about how having a cuddle first thing in the morning can really make you feel happier and set you up for a better day.

After writing that I was inspired to go and read a bit more about hugs and cuddles and the benefits we can reap from squeezing more of them into our day to day life.

So, here are the results of my research – 6 really wonderful benefits of hugging:

6 reasons to squeeze more hugs into each day

 

1) It can really boost your immune system.  

Study after study have found that you’re more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu when you’re stressed out, so taking steps to reduce your stress levels can help protect you and keep those bugs at bay.  And hugging has been shown to reduce stress as it releases oxytocin into your blood stream.

Further research has also shown that if, despite our best efforts, we do still get ill, then our symptoms are often not as bad if we have lots of cuddles.  Which would explain why our children just want to be physically close to us when they’re poorly!

 

2) It makes you feel less afraid.  

I think this one is amazing.

A study published in the Psychological science journal found that anxiety levels in women who were told they might receive a mild electric shock were reduced when they held hands with one of the male experimenters, and were reduced even more when they held hands with their husbands.

So physical contact, either holding hands or a great big hug, can really help to calm your nerves and make you feel braver.

 

3) It lowers your blood pressure.  

I’m pretty sure that high blood pressure is pretty common in parents, I mean, getting children ready and out of the door in the morning isn’t particularly relaxing!  But research carried out by Light et al found that frequent hugs between partners are linked with higher oxytocin levels and lower blood pressure.  So, like I mentioned recently, grab your partner or your kids for a big hug first thing in the morning!

Reasons to hug more each day

 

4) It helps you communicate better.  

We all know how important non-verbal communication is, we can express so much through looks and touch, it’s amazing.

Well, hugging can be a great form of non-verbal communication.  David Klow, a marriage and family therapist in Chicago says  “Cuddling is a way of saying, ‘I know how you feel.’ It allows us to feel known by our partner in ways that words can’t convey.”  How great is that?  If we can’t find the words to express to our partners that we feel them, and understand them, then a hug can be a fantastic was to express that.

This works even better if your partner’s love language is physical touch.

 

5) It strengthens your relationships.  

Remember that oxytocin that I mentioned earlier, that helps you feel more relaxed and less stressed?

Well it also helps bond you to the people that you’re hugging, so regular cuddles with your partner and your children will help make you all feel more secure and stable as a unit.

 

6)  It just makes you feel good!  

Not only does cuddling release oxytocin, it can also release endorphins into the mix, according to Dr Renee Horowitz.  Endorphins are the chemicals responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ that you might feel after exercising and they’re why eating chocolate makes us so happy!

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cwtch on the sofa with my kids and a big bar of dairy milk!