How often do you sit down and eat as a family in your house?

I know it’s something my family and I don’t do often enough.  With the children ready to eat almost as soon as they get home from school, eating dinner together during the week just doesn’t work for us.  We try to sit down together for a meal at the weekend but even that doesn’t happen as much as it would in a perfect world.

There are so many benefits to eating together as a family, but it seems to be something that doesn’t happen often enough for lots of families.

Furniture village recently commissioned a survey that looked into mealtime habits in the UK, and the findings are really interesting.  Only 22% of the people asked said that they ate their dinner at the table every night, while 53% said that they eat on the sofa more than anywhere else.

What they also found though was that 70% of the people they asked said that they believed family relationships were strengthened when everyone sat at the table and ate meals together.

It can be hard to find the time though, and when you do have the chance to do it sometimes family meals can be stressful with fussy eaters and no one really talking to each other.  Hopefully these tips will help to make family mealtimes more enjoyable for everyone.

How to make family mealtimes more enjoyable

 

Get the children to help

It’s easy to feel a bit hard done by if you’re the parent who sorts everything out for family mealtimes.  So get the children in on the action to share the load a bit, as well as get them more interested in the food they’re going to be eating.

Depending on a child’s age they can help with:

  • Menu planning
  • Food shopping
  • Preparing ingredients for the meal
  • Cooking the meal itself
  • Laying the table and clearing up afterwards

 

Play some games

You can make the dinner table a happy, fun place for everyone to spend time together by playing a few games during mealtimes.

Here are some ideas:

  • Would you rather?  Ask your children age-appropriate questions like “would you rather be the teacher at school or a student?”.  You can ask really silly questions or more serious ones, depending on the mood everyone is in.
  • Who am I?  This is a game we play in the car sometimes.  One person thinks of someone (normally someone we know in real life) and the others ask them yes or no questions to try and work out who they’re thinking of.
  • What am I?  This is basically the same game, but you think of an object rather than a person.
  • Carry on the story.  One person starts a story, along the lines of ‘once upon a time there was a little girl with blond hair’.  Then the next person makes up the next line of the story, and then go around the table with each person adding more to it.  The aim really is to make the story as silly as possible.
  • ABC.  Think of a topic like countries or foods or people’s names and then go around the table coming up with an answer for each letter of the alphabet.

 

Get the conversation going

If you’d rather chat with your children than play games, then you can start a conversation by asking what the best and worst parts of their day were.

Then move on to more random conversation topics, like:

  • If a genie granted you a wish, what would you wish for and why?
  • If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be?
  • If you were a superhero, what would your special power be?
  • If you could only eat one food for the next week, what would you chose?
  • If you could visit the setting of any book or tv programme, where would you go?

The great thing about these kinds of questions is they’re quite fun for the adults to answer too.

 

I know these ideas won’t magically solve issues with fussy eaters or get fidgety little ones to sit still and eat their food.  

There are always circumstances that make mealtimes stressful and no fun for anyone involved.  Hopefully though these tips will help to get children more interested in sitting down together.  They might distract them enough that they’ll put more food in their mouths without a big fuss.  They might engage them enough that they’ll stay sitting at the table that bit longer.

Do you have any other tips to make mealtimes more enjoyable for the whole family?

 

I had a cuppa and a catch up with a friend the other day.

We hadn’t seen each other for a month or two and it was really lovely to chat and get up to date on what’s been going on in each other’s lives.  That evening I was talking to my husband about it, and how it had suddenly occurred to me that we had been friends for around 7 years now.

It just felt like such a long time ago that we met as exhausted first-time mums at the local NCT baby group.  And it was so lovely to think how our friendship has developed and how openly and honestly we can talk to each other about things.

It makes me so glad that I pushed myself to go to baby group all those years ago.  That I stepped out of my introvert comfort zone and started making small talk with the other mums there.

I know a lot of introverts really struggle with small talk.  For me it’s more about social anxiety but I know for others it’s about wanting to go deeper than small talk and chit-chat allows.  The thing is though, you have to go through that small talk phase to be able to build relationships and make friends.

So, here is my guide to making small talk for introverted parents.

The introverted parent's guide to making small talk

 

Whether you’re a brand new parent heading to baby group or you have older children and want to get to know people at the school gates, these ideas will help.

 

Break the ice

Take a deep breath, this is the hard part for so many of us.

If you see someone you want to chat with then you’ll need to find a way to break the ice and get the conversation going.

Jennifer Latson, author of ‘the boy who loved too much‘ suggests a three-step approach to greeting people.

  1. Compliment them.  It can be as simple as saying how much you love their baby’s name, or how happy their child is going into school.
  2. Ask about their well-being.  You can go with a simple, ‘how are you today?’ or go a bit further and ask if they were struggling with the morning rush to get to school on time like you are!
  3. Choose a topic to chat about that is relevant to them.  This is pretty easy if you have children the same age, you can just ask their thoughts on any issue you’re dealing with at the moment, or how great different parts of being a parent are.

 

Ask open-ended questions

This is a classic way of getting conversations flowing.

People quite like to talk about themselves, so showing interest and asking questions is a great way to start chatting.  The trick though is to steer away from ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions which can stop a conversation in its tracks.

One way to do this is to ask ‘why’ questions instead of ‘what’ questions.

So at baby group you can ask someone their baby’s name, and then keep the conversation going by asking if there was a reason or special significance behind their choice.

 

Return their questions

If you find it hard to think of questions to ask, you can just wait for them to ask you one and then ask the same one back.

So when they ask you “Is this your first baby?”, you can reply “No, it’s my second, how about you?”

 

Introvert parent's guide to making small talk

 

Make other parents feel like you care about them

Ask their name (not just their child’s name) and use it when you speak to them.  When we’re used to being called ‘so and so’s mum’  that it feels quite special when someone makes the effort to call us by our actual name.

If you’re sitting with a few other mums at baby group or at the school gates then make sure to bring everyone into the conversation.  If you notice that one parent in particular seems to be left out, make a point of directing some questions to her and making sure she’s ok.

 

Ask fact-based questions to start a conversation.

At baby group ask if they know what time it finishes, or if there are any other nice groups that they know of in the area.  At the school gates you can ask about homework, or events that the PTA are planning.  You could ask if they know which swim school is best to go with locally, or if they know of a good karate or ballet class.

 

Find a common enemy.

There’s something about complaining together that brings people together.  And while being a parent is wonderful there are also lots of things that we can complain about, all of which make pretty good topics of conversation.

Lack of sleep, teething and weaning troubles are good things to complain about together when your baby is little.

 

As your child gets older then there are bound to be all sorts of school related issues that you can bond over.  It can be as mundane as complaining about the fact that it always rains during the school run, it will still break the ice and get you chatting.

 

I know for a lot of introverts small talk is painful. 

You want to go deeper than chat about the weather.  But you have to go through the small talk stage to connect with people and move on to the next level, so hopefully these tips will help make the process a bit easier.

The weather, and the temperature in particular, has been a real topic of conversation over the last few months.

The recent heatwave that seemed to go on forever was being discussed everywhere you went, and all over social media.  And now we’re not even in September and people are starting to talk about how chilly it’s getting and debating whether or not they should put the heating on.

The perfect temperature at home is definitely a subject for debate, but First Utility are looking to end the discussion with their guide to the ideal room temperatures throughout our homes.  When it comes to our general well-being at home then it seems that a temperature of around 21 degrees is best.

It’s not just about our comfort though, feeling hot or cold can have all sorts of interesting effects on us.

the surprising ways we're affected by temperature

Temperature influences our creativity

Research has found that different types of creativity can be encouraged depending on whether we feel hot or cold.

People in one particular study were made to feel warm in a variety of ways. They were given a hot cup of tea to drink, or were placed in a warm room for the study. Under these circumstances they were better at creative drawing and coming up with ideas for presents for other people, amongst other things.

When they were made to feel cold instead, however, they were better at recognising metaphors and thinking of abstract gift ideas.

In this case it seems that being warm helps people with warm relational creativity. So, they might feel psychologically closer to other people and more generous towards them. While being cold seems to produce more distant and cold processing, as they feel colder and more distanced from other people.

 

It changes how we view people

And how much we cooperate with them.

I’ve written before about how holding a warm drink can change the way we view other people.  We’re more likely to see them as warm and friendly while we have a nice warm cup of tea in our hands.

Research has shown that it goes further than this though.

A study carried out in 2013 called ‘the iterated prisoner’s dilemma‘ found that temperature can also affect how much trust we put in another person and how willing we are to cooperate with them.

In the study participants were put into pairs and put in a pretend jail. They were told that the authorities didn’t have enough evidence to convict either of them but that they each needed to testify against the other.

Some of the participants were given hand warmers to hold during the experiment and others were given ice packs.  The study found that the people with the hand warmers were twice as likely to cooperate with their cell mate and refuse to testify against them.

The researchers believe that it’s possible that the physical feeling of warmth increased the warmth the participants felt towards each other and increased their interpersonal trust of one another.

temperature changes how we view people

 

It influences the way women dress

We all know that the weather affects the way we dress.

In summer we wear light clothes. Dresses and shorts to try and keep cool. Whereas in winter we layer up in warm and cosy jumpers and cardies.

Researchers have found something quite interesting though, that is specific to women.

One particular study found that women were more likely to wear clothes in shades of red and pink on days when they’re ovulating.  The theory put forward by the researchers is that this is down to a subconscious idea of these colours making us more attractive to potential partners.  Jessica Tracy, lead author of the study, wrote that “the basic idea is that read and pink colours are sort of a sexual signal”.

What’s really interesting though is that this preference for red and pink clothing during ovulation only appeared in the colder winter months.

Tracy says “maybe what’s going on here is that in the summer when it’s warmer, women have more ways of dressing seductively”.  In the winter though it’s normally too cold for things like shorter skirts and low-cut tops, so we choose colour instead.  She also noted that it’s pretty controversial to suggest this idea that women behave differently when they’re ovulating but all sorts of other studies have shown that it does happen in various ways.

 

When it comes to finding the ideal temperature for our homes it might be worth thinking beyond our physical comfort.

With the knowledge of how the temperature affects us we can potentially create the environment that we want.  So we can make our home a little warmer to encourage our children to cooperate with each other more, or lower the temperature if we need to work on problem solving or a task that needs a bit of critical thinking.

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

I always used to be a real bath person.

I loved running a hot, deep bath and taking my time relaxing there with a magazine.

Then I had the children and didn’t really have the time for that any more, and showers took over.  And now I think I genuinely prefer showers to baths.  I think it’s something to do with the constantly running water; the sensation of it and the sound of it.

I might be onto something with this too, as there are quite a few benefits of showering.  Here are 3 reasons you should take a bit of time for yourself and head for the shower.

3 psychological benefits of taking a shower

 

Better sleep

If you have a shower in the evening, which is often the only time you have the peace and quiet to do it as a busy parent, then you’ll get the lovely benefit of a better night’s sleep.

A nice, warm shower before getting into bed can help to relax your muscles and calm you down so you fall asleep more easily.

If you’re feeling braver though then a cold blast from the shower can also help you sleep better.

After a few minutes in the cold water you sort of get used to it.  Then when you get out into the warmth of your bedroom you’ll find that the comforting change in temperature helps to relax your body.  Which again makes it easier to fall asleep.

 

More energy

If you’re able to jump in the shower first thing in the morning then you’ll get the benefit of a nice little energy boost.

A cold blast at the end of your shower is the best way to really get the benefit though.  The cold water stimulates blood flow around your body, which basically means more oxygen travels round your body too, making you feel more alert and energised.

 

Peace and quiet

Quite often the only time busy parents get to themselves in the day is when they’re in the shower and there are loads of benefits to our emotional and physical health to taking that time on a regular basis.

The warm water helps to relax us and the white noise that the shower creates can be lovely and soothing too.  Research has even shown that having a shower can increase the level of oxytocin in our bodies.  This then helps us feel less stressed and reduces anxiety.

 

So don’t feel guilty next time you take a bit of extra time in the shower. 

You’ll be getting so many different benefits from improved sleep to feeling calmer, which will then benefit the whole family.

In fact I think it’s a great idea to really indulge in a nice long shower on a regular basis.

Use all your favourite products and put a deep conditioning treatment on your hair (the steam will help it work even better).  Maybe even think about upgrading your shower to an all-singing all-dancing one with a twin impeller shower pump from Pump Sales Direct so you know the water pressure will be just right every time.

And if you can stand it, turn the water to cold for the last minute of your shower for extra health benefits.

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

Do you play golf?

It’s not something I’ve ever really considered playing myself, but my in-laws both play it on a regular basis and absolutely love it.

There are definitely benefits to playing a few rounds, and the fact that people seem to get hooked quite easily once they start playing suggests that it’s something worth thinking about.

Here are 3 great reasons to take up playing golf.

3 reasons to take up golf

It’s good exercise

Apparently the average golfer will walk around 8 km during an 18 hole round of golf.  Which works out at about 10,000 steps, the target amount of steps for lots of us fitness-tracker-wearers.

What’s great about golf is that you’re distracted by the game rather than thinking all the time about how much walking you’re doing.  Then before you know it you’ve reached your target number of steps for the day.

Researchers in Edinburgh reviewed 5000 studies into gold and well-being and found that there are lots of benefits to playing golf as a form of exercise.  It has various long-term benefits to our mental health and improves our cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic health.

 

It’s social

Playing golf can be a really great social activity, as you take your time going round the course, chatting as you go.  And then there’s the time you can spend in the golf club afterwards, enjoying a drink and getting to know some of the other members.

There’s also something to be said for the positive effects that the dress code has on the social side of things.

The fact that everyone is dressed in a similar style helps to foster a sort of team spirit, making you feel part of something.  You can still express a bit of individuality though; these golf jackets from Function 18 come in a variety of colours so you can pick something that that feels like ‘you’ while still fitting in with the dress code.

 

It gets you out in the fresh air

While there are some places you can practice your golf skills indoors, most of the time you’ll be outside in the fresh air.

There are so many benefits to getting a good, regular dose of fresh air.  It leaves us feeling energised, less stressed and noticeably happier.  A lot of sports take place outside, but golf especially includes a real element of spending time in nature.

This time spent outside in green spaces does wonders for our sense of well-being, and we also get the added benefits of a dose of vitamin D from being out in the sunshine.  Studies have shown that getting enough vitamin D can help to ward off all sorts of things from heart disease to the flu.

 

So there you go, 3 great reasons for us all to think about taking up golf.  I’m still not sure it’s for me at the moment, but I can understand why so many people enjoy it, with the fresh air and exercise it provides giving them a good dose of feel-good serotonin and dopamine.

Have you ever played, or is it something that you think you’ll take up playing at some point?

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

I have to be honest, I’ve never really been a big follower of fashion.

I tend to stick to quite simple, comfy clothes that I think suit me rather than following current trends and trying lots of different looks.  I do wonder sometimes though, what sort of image of myself I’m portraying through my outfits.

How much do the clothes, and shoes, we wear really matter when it comes to what people think about us, and how we feel about ourselves?

Should we all be getting dressed to shoes_

 

There is definitely something to be said for making a bit of effort when it comes to getting dressed in the morning.

The way we dress changes not only the impression other people form about us, but also the way we feel about ourselves.

Studies carried out by Howlett et al. in 2013 and 2015 found that people thought more favourably about a man when he was wearing a bespoke suit, than when he was wearing very similar off the rack suits.  And it wasn’t just that they said he was better dressed.  He was judged by the participants as being ” more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner” when he was in the custom-made suit.

On a less scientific note, I’m pretty sure we’ve all looked at the mum on the school run who is dressed nicely with her hair and make up done and thought that she must be much more organised and in control than us, when we’re in our old comfy jeans and a messy bun.

casual jeans and shoes

 

It might not be the case that she actually has it all together, it’s just the impression that her appearance gives us.

Saying that though, it may well be that taking that bit of time to get dressed nicely and put on a bit of make up does actually make her more organised and on top of things.

The way we dress has been shown to affect the way we feel about ourselves.  One study in particular carried at Northwestern University found that the clothing we wear can influence our psychological processes.

In this study people were asked to put on a white coat and complete a few tasks.  The people who were told the coat was a doctor’s lab coat were more careful and attentive during the tasks than the people who were told it was a painter’s smock.

Author Mason Donovan explains that “dressing professionally puts us in a different mental state.  We feel more present, and we have a higher level of commitment and engagement”.

It’s not all about work either.

Getting dressed properly rather than staying in pyjamas or joggers all day when we’re at home with our children can really change how we feel and how our days go.

I know I feel more productive and more motivated to get things done once I’ve showered and got dressed into something other than joggers.  If you’ve ever heard of FlyLady and her systems for getting organised then you’ll know that one of her main baby steps is getting dressed to shoes every day.

The theory is that with proper shoes on our feet we’re less likely to spend the day lounging around on the sofa.  Now, I don’t normally wear shoes in the house but I can sort of see the logic behind this.

You could keep a specific pair of shoes that you wear in and around the house; something comfy but still smart enough to feel good wearing them.  A pair of lace up plimsolls or some espadrilles can help bring an outfit together and make you feel more put together in general.

And maybe it could be the answer to finally getting that to-do list cleared.

So what do you think, does the way you dress each day change how you feel and how productive you are?  Should we all be getting dressed to shoes every day to get more done?

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

I may have mentioned before that my son is quite a high energy child.

He has this need to move, to fidget, to wiggle, to jump and run around.  Physical activity and exercise is really important for his well-being.  Even though he’ll tell you he doesn’t want to go out anywhere you can just see how he thrives on being out in the fresh air, moving his body and letting out some of his energy.

Physical activity is important to all of us of course, and has all sorts of benefits throughout the different stages of our lives.

The importance of physical activity at every stage of life

The importance of exercise in childhood and adolescence

Various studies have shown how important it is for children and young adults to get enough physical activity.

One study in particular found that children who walked for just 20 minutes showed increased levels of cognitive function.  They were able to concentrate better and did better on tests too.  So giving children the opportunity to run around throughout the school day can be really beneficial to them academically.

As we get older and move into adolescence we quite often stop being so physically active, but at this stage in life there are some big benefits to getting regular exercise.  It helps us to feel happier and less anxious, and promotes a more positive body image which is quite often a big concern in our teenage years.

 

Adulthood and exercise

Sooner or later we all reach that point of realising we’re not as young as we used to be.

Our bodies feel more tired and we might gain weight more easily.  Starting, or keeping up, and exercise routine can help to give us more energy again, and keep our bodies fit and strong.

Regular exercise can also help us fight the stress that often comes with this stage of life.

 

Benefits of staying mobile and active into old age

As we move into old age keeping active and mobile becomes important in a different way.

Research carried out at Kingston University has found that staying active and having a busy social life are key factors in helping people cope with the challenges of getting older.  But it can be easy to become isolated as we get older, especially if we lose some of our mobility and find ourselves stuck at home more and more.

Keeping up a gentle exercise routine such as walking regularly or swimming as we get older can help to maintain our emotional and physical well-being.  If our health does decline and our mobility is reduced then walking aids can help us to keep our independence and remain active enough to keep up our social relationships.

 

No matter what stage of life we’re at it’s important to keep physically active.

It’s just a case of finding the right activity for you.  It might be walking as much as you can, rather than always taking the car.  It might be finding a yoga class that you can go to with your children, or even your parents.

Whatever it is, make time in your schedule for physical activity and you’ll reap the benefits, no matter how young or old you might be.

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post