All the Help I Can Get: Thoughts on Brain Development, Dinner, and Let’s Talk Month


by Education and Outreach Department Staff
Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota

“No you can’t wear sandals and that sundress today, honey. It’s not summer anymore. It’s fall now—October. It’s too cold,” I say. “But I like to be cold,” says my daughter during our daily negotiation about what a person can wear outside the house. I take her outside. She says she’s not cold. I see goosebumps on her sleeveless arms. I ask her if she can see our breath when we talk. She says yes. She seems amazed and delighted by this, even as she starts to shiver slightly. I ask her if she feels cold yet. She says yes. “Let’s go put on some warmer clothes,” I say. She’s agreeable, even though it means taking off her favorite dress and well worn sandals and finding something more appropriate but not as familiar to put on. Change is tough when you’re four-and-a-half. And, on some mornings, getting dressed takes a very long time. Let's Talk Logo

As the season turns from summer to fall here in Minneapolis, the rate of change inside my house continues to astonish me. My two young daughters have educated me on the subject of human development unlike any of the latest research I try to keep up with in my professional life in Planned Parenthood’s Education & Outreach Department. Take the human brain, for example. David Walsh, founder of the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family, is an expert on adolescent brain development. He says that our brains don’t really become “adult” until the age of about 25. (25?!? Will my daughter finally be able to dress herself appropriately by then?!? Will I be in my early sixties before getting out the door every morning doesn’t feel like a small miracle?) Walsh has helped us understand that the way our brains grow and develop is truly elegant and amazing, and that it takes a long time. And the resulting behavior during childhood and adolescence? Sometimes not so elegant and amazing. (I’m gonna need all the help I can get.)

It really is a great time to be a parent right now. It’s also a great time to be a professional who serves youth and families. Researchers, scientists, physicians, and other impressive people are working hard on expanding our knowledge about what is good for kids and families. Over at the University of Minnesota they’re working on something called Project EAT (Eating Among Teens). Their studies, among others, show that the simple act of regularly sharing a family meal could be one of the most important things we can do to contribute to the health and well-being of children as they grow. Children in families who eat together generally enjoy healthier food, but they are healthier in other ways too. They tend to do better in school, are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs, less likely to have eating disorders or be overweight, less likely to be depressed, more likely to wait longer to have sex, and more likely to have a positive view of the future. Such a simple thing to do: eat dinner as a family.

I’m constantly trying to get my intentions to match my behavior as a parent. For example, I intend to breeze home after a rewarding day at work and put an appealing and nutritious meal on the table over which my family can enjoy each other’s company and catch up on the happenings of the day. What actually happens is that I dash home later than I’d like at the end of a busy day, sling a store-bought meatloaf in the microwave while I take my coat off, take the crying baby from my husband, take a moment to explain not so calmly and for the one hundredth time the virtues of asking nicely for something to my 4-year-old (who whines about the meatloaf), feed myself while also feeding my 9-month-old who spreads her mooshy baby food all over her face, hands, hair and ears, and then herd the dishes to the sink. I almost always feel rushed and frazzled. But when we are sitting down together at dinner, things feel a bit more orderly and manageable. And we talk and connect with each other. And it feels good.

I’m fortunate to have a job that enriches my personal life as much as it does. This month, October, is Let’s Talk Month, during which we at Planned Parenthood focus on helping families to make stronger connections and to talk honestly and openly about sexual health and relationships. This year, we are encouraging families to talk more around the table by using the Let’s Talk Tablemat – a conversation-starter tool. Anything to help that family meal live on! I fully intend to take it home and put it on my table, along with the reheated leftover meatloaf.

Parenting is such a challenge. There is a daily-ness to it that doesn’t let up. My life is full. But I do, after all, like a challenge. Monday morning it was the sundress and sandals; this morning it was the snowpants and boots—my daughter’s choice for school, which takes place indoors. “We’ll wear those when we go sledding in the winter,” I say. My daughter starts whining. I keep it upbeat. “Let’s go find your jeans and sparkly shoes.”

We eventually make it out the door. Another small miracle. And tonight, I’m really looking forward to what we’ll talk about over that meatloaf.

Get more info on the Let’s Talk Tablemat on our website or use the buttons below to download the tablemat.

Download English Tablemat Download Spanish Tablemat

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with PlannedParenthoodAdvocate please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • crowepps

    Tip from a grandma who had a similar fussy daughter – pick out the clothes the night BEFORE during the bedtime ritual.