Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen?
By Amy Gallagher, Psy.D
When was the last time you cooked with a child? Cooking, and eating, together can be a strong way to promote developmental skills, socio-emotional learning, and communication in children and families.
Children learn by doing. Cooking is a positive and fun way to teach or enhance certain academic and life skills. When using recipes, children are encouraged to practice reading skills and learn to follow step-by-step instructions. Math skills are strengthened through measuring ingredients. Time skills are reinforced through the use of timers and clocks in order to check when food items may be ready. Also, fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills are developed as children use utensils and other kitchen items.
Socio-emotional learning is also enhanced through cooking. When cooking together, children and adults can practice turn taking when adding ingredients or following directions. Problem solving skills are reinforced through figuring out what to do if a certain ingredient is not available. Since cooking takes time, patience is developed in order to see the meal through its entirety. Children may also increase confidence and feelings of capability as they try a new activity and achieve a positive outcome through tasting food that they made.
Once a meal has been cooked, sitting down together as a family to eat also offers a variety of benefits. Mealtime is the perfect time to work on gratitude skills. Research suggests that practicing gratitude can improve communication, relationships, achievement in academic or career settings, and promote overall health and wellbeing. Encourage everyone to state something that they are grateful for, daily.
Eating together allows time and space to discuss what is happening in the lives of all family members. Check-in with each other in order to understand what is going well and where there may be challenges. One way to do this is to discuss “roses” (e.g. the best part of one’s day) and “thorns” (the challenges of the day). Encourage the addition of a feeling word (e.g. happy, sad, frustrated, etc.) to the situations. Adding this to a family’s routine allows family members to listen to each other, practice problem solving, and identify feelings. Openly discussing challenges allows for relationships and trust to build within the family unit, promoting honesty while decreasing potential shame around sensitive issues. This becomes especially relevant as children enter adolescence and school, friendships, family expectations, and other topics increase in complexity.
It is important for the adults at the table to model positive behaviors, too. If cell phones are not allowed at the table, then the adults should put theirs away, also. Think about a designated spot for electronics during meals. This emphasizes the importance of spending quality family time together. Also, the adults can contribute to discussions around roses and thorns through using appropriate examples from their daily experiences. While burdening children with adult topics and decisions is not appropriate, helping children understand that everyone in the family has positive and negative experiences can offer teachable moments.
Think about adding another cook to your kitchen and see where the experience takes you and your children!
Dr. Amy Gallagher is a licensed psychologist with Mind Springs Health, the largest provider of behavioral health services in Western Colorado.