Family mealtime chat

Family mealtime chat boosts children’s confidence and communication skills

New research shows that children and young people who sit down to eat dinner and talk with their family are more confident communicators than those who don’t. However, the National Literacy Trust report reveals that one in four children don’t have daily mealtime chat and nearly a third spend more time online or watching TV than talking to their family. 

Crucially, the research shows that children from families that talk regularly at mealtimes have greater confidence in speaking and listening and more positive attitudes towards communication. Children who don’t enjoy regular talk at mealtimes are three times more likely to say they are not at all confident to put their hand up in class. The National Literacy Trust is calling on parents to recognise the importance of talking regularly at home for their child’s well-being and success.

Natalie Cassidy, ex-EastEnders star and mum of Eliza, aged 3, supports the call by Words for Life to make time for regular mealtime chat. Natalie says: “I believe it’s incredibly important for mealtimes to not only be about the food we eat but the conversation we have around the table. As Eliza is unable to read or write yet, the spoken word and listening back are the first steps on the learning ladder for her".

"The time my fiancé, Eliza and I share around the table is the time we sit and listen to each other, rather than being on our phones, watching television or doing chores around the house. I know how busy life is and we haven’t all got partners to share dinnertime with. I know we get home from childminders after long days at work and just want to get the little ones to bed. Even if you’re strapped for time, make 10-15 minutes to all sit down together. Food is fuel for our bodies. So is conversation for our brains.”

The research surveyed nearly 35,000 children and young people across the UK. Some of the other key findings are:

  • All young people, regardless of how often they talk at mealtimes, say that speaking is the most important skill they need to succeed in life
  • Young people who don’t sit down with their family at mealtimes are twice as likely to think that good communication skills aren’t important for getting a job
  • Disadvantaged children are nearly twice more likely to say they rarely or never talk with their family at mealtimes than their better-off peers (10.1% vs. 6.1%)

According to the Government’s proposals for a revised National Curriculum, there will be a renewed focus on speaking and listening skills in primary schools from September 2014. The National Literacy Trust’s new research highlights how families can play their part in giving their children a solid foundation in speaking and listening skills by taking simple steps like chatting together at mealtimes.

Words for Life has plenty of ideas and inspiration for fitting talk into your daily lives and if you have younger children take a look at the tips on our baby section.

Research was conducted by Christina Clark. The report uses data from our third annual literacy survey in which nearly 35,000 8 to 16-year-olds from 188 schools in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales participated at the end of November/December 2012

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