What role do schools and youth-serving organizations play in supporting children’s mental and emotional health around the holiday season? Author Kiyah Duffey provides us the latest insight into family engagement, traditions and the connection to food.
In an era of political correctness and due to concern over drawing attention to religious differences a need to keep religious life separate from education in many school districts, it is sometimes difficult to know what role schools and youth-serving organizations can play in supporting children’s mental and emotional health around the holiday season. Emerging research on family and student engagement and the importance of supporting cultural diversity provides some clues.
Importance of Family Engagement
There is growing consensus that children with involved families are more likely to earn higher grades and test scores, enroll in higher-level programs, have more regular attendance, and go on to higher education1-2. At the elementary level, there is even evidence that family involvement is associated with improved behavior and better social skills3-4. The growing resilience research has also identified many protective factors including social connectedness between families and schools, staff and students, and among students, that promote positive outcomes in the face of adversity5-6.
Family engagement may be particularly important for immigrant families whose children can face additional challenges adapting to school and who may not have the same social resources – connections to school, the community, and to the larger society – in their new country as they did back home. Providing culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate methods for family and student engagement will help reduce isolation and foster inclusion.
Use Food to Foster Connection
In many parts of the world, and especially around important (national and international) holidays, food is an integral part of defining and creating one’s culture. Like other traditions, food traditions tie us together, are passed from generation to generation within families, and they connect us to the broader society in which we live7-8. Although less is known about the role that food traditions, specifically, play in the process of socialization or acculturation, there is some evidence to suggest that fostering such connections may lead to positive, life-long habits. People who feel a sense of connection to their past are more likely to make decisions that will help to preserve their future12; thus feeling connected to the way that your grandmother made her “famous” collard greens, fattoush, or pasta e fagioli means that young people may be more likely to want to preserve those traditions. Additionally, a recent study with African American families found that families taught children to value activities that combine quality time and enjoying food together9. And as Alice Waters said, “It’s around the table and in the preparation of food that we learn about ourselves and about the world.”
The Role for Schools & Youth-Serving Organizations
Traditions, although focused on families, can be fostered by organizations that serve young people. Here’s how:
Resources & Notes:
Writer: Kiyah J. Duffey, PhD, is the Director of Global Scientific Affairs at LA Sutherland Group and adjunct faculty in Human Nutrition at Virginia Tech. She is a contributor to Smart Eating for Kids and Mind Positive Parenting, where she writes about how parents can use the latest nutrition science to promote healthy feeding and eating practices in their kids. She is a regular contributor to the Practice Briefs series.
This brief is one in a series describing new knowledge and innovative research emerging from the field of youth development. The briefs are intended to inform parents, professionals, and volunteers in education, youth development, and related fields; and to contribute to a heightened national awareness of youth development practice.
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