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Family-Sized New Year's Resolutions.

When the new year begins, why not make a resolution to eat better as a family? You can keep good nutrition in mind as well as spend more quality time together at the table. And if you can make more of your meals a family event, experts say you may also be

Comforts Kids, Improves Family Communication continued...

Kids who consistently have family dinnertime have better emotional health than other kids, says Michael Resnick, PhD, a sociologist and professor of pediatrics at the University of Minneapolis and director of the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Research Center.

His data come from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationwide study of 20,000 young people in grades seven through 12. The study was conducted through the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"Those kids were also less involved in risky behaviors, including substance abuse and interpersonal violence," Resnick tells WebMD.

"The needs of young people don't magically stop when they turn a certain age," he says. "Many kids are skillful at giving the message that parents aren't important in their lives. The mistake is that we believe it. The findings from our study definitely show that kids value what their parents say and do."

In fact, kids say they like family mealtime, he tells WebMD, "because they're always hungry, and because it's comforting to them to have food prepared. And they enjoy participating in that process. They feel competent; they feel a sense of mastery, like they've contributed to something. And kids say it's a time for the family to check in with each other."

What Family Dinner Time Should Be -- and Shouldn't Be

Dinner together doesn't have to be every night of the week. But when it happens, "it should not be a dumping ground for issues that have built up over the week," Resnick says. "Don't reprimand kids. Don't make conflict the focus, or kids will stay away. We're talking about connection and communication."

Also, be sure to turn off the TV, Resnick says. "People need to be able to talk to each other without distractions," he says.

It may even help to light a candle, he suggests. "This is not based on science; it's based on me being a dad. There's something magical about that little flicker of flame. I think a candle is visually very soothing. It helps create a mood."

For some families, dinnertime means "mostly being silent," says Resnick. "For some, it's continuous chatter. There's no magic formula. But it's a good time for families to share with each other what they've been doing, what's been interesting, what's been tough, stuff they're looking forward to, things they've heard in the news. It can be about anything."

Dinnertime is one step toward openness that makes talk about drugs possible, Califano says.

"You can't just say, 'Don't do drugs,'" he tells WebMD. "You have to encourage kids to talk, to be open. The family dinner hour is key in that."

"At the dinner table, you talk about whatever the kids want to talk about," Califano says. "Kids will bring these issues up, and parents can bring them up. But it's a comfortable, simple, basic way to communicate with your kids."

And that could become a worthwhile resolution for your family to make -- and keep -- this year.

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