Why mums SHOULD do the washing up this Mother’s Day…
Ok, give me five minutes to explain this one…
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to parents, teachers and childcare providers about what can be gained by cooking with kids. And primarily I’ve focused on the obvious vantage points: encouraging healthy eating (children are far more invested to eat what they’ve had a hand in creating); encouraging kitchen skills and dexterity (note that the Lets Get Cooking programme has created a wonderful back catalogue of recipes that also enable children to ‘achieve’ various cookery skills); and helping kids create their own internal recipe file – hopefully to be revisited when they’re out in the big wide world, living independently (newsflash: Home Ec has come a long way and some of the more progressive schools I visit are as likely to create hummus and hagis as they are scones and Scotch Eggs).
But there’s another huge advantage to cooking with kids – and it’s one that’s often overlooked: being in the kitchen with kids (whatever you’re doing) creates the opportunity for them to talk, you to listen (really listen – not that ‘distracted listening’ that us parents do!) and both of you to bond.
Do you remember those wonderful TV adverts that were looking to recruit social workers? In one of them, a short film depicted a social worker using the unmistakably British ‘lets have a nice cup of tea’ methodology in order to start a dialogue with a troubled teen. The strapline, I recall, was ‘Not Just a Cup of Tea – Be The Difference.’
The point is, sometimes kids find it hard to find the words. Perhaps they’ve come from an uncommunicative family; perhaps they’re just shy; perhaps something more serious is going on. Certainly in this spinning plates, juggling balls era, I often find it hard myself to just… stop – and enjoy time with my kids. Frequently I’ll ask if they’re ok, and usually the answer is yes. But ordinarily in these briefest of chats I’m battling traffic, if not sibling rivalry.
Undoubtedly some of the best conversations I’ve had with my kids have been when we’ve been semi-focused on some other job – why is that? – and that’s when cooking comes into its own; ‘chop-n-chat’ as the cookery show producers call it. (And yes, even something as mundane as washing up can create a fantastic bonding opportunity. Got an uncommunicative teen? Pretend the dishwasher’s broken, slip them a fiver* and then hand them a tea towel).
Many child psychologists believe it’s more vital than ever for children to engage in activities with their parents – in order that they can develop essential social (as well as practical) skills. Increasingly though, kids are left to their own devices – and I mean that literally as well as figuratively (ever seen a seven year old with a mobile? I know that lifestyles can make this kind of thing necessary but it still makes me very sad…) Likewise I recently read about a report** which revealed that “only a fifth of UK parents do any form of family activities with their kids”.
Listen, I don’t mean to heap yet more guilt upon time-stretched, busy parents (and I’m the first to admit to using CBBC as a babysitter while I’m on a work call – or even when I’m just knackered). And I’m not totally antiquated when it comes to modern day kids’ activities – after all, if we don’t allow them to embrace the digital age, they’ll be the hippy kids, left behind.
But (never mind cooking) the ability to talk, communicate, and socialize is – to my mind – one of the most vital skills for life (and relationships) – and these skills must surely be taught by parents, by both modeling this behaviour at home, as well as creating the opportunity for it to happen.
And cooking with kids is just perfect for this. Cheap, weather-proof, and with ample edible incentivisers, you can even have a glass of wine while you’re doing it….
So this Mother’s Day, how about ditching the idea of a pampered pub lunch and creating the gift of some heart-warming ‘you and them’ time – in the kitchen, playing your favourite songs, just you and your kid(s).
You’ll be amazed at where those conversations might just take you.
* I imagine that’s the going rate these days?!
**’Self Raising Families’ – a report commissioned by Betty Crocker on the Psychological, Social and Practical Benefits of Family Baking and Bonding.
Fiona Faulkner is a mum, broadcaster and author of the book ‘25 Foods your kids hate…and how to get them eating 24‘. She’s working with us on our Take Two campaign to get every child eating at least two portions of fruit and veg during lunchtime at school.