By Jerry Morris, PsyD, MsPharm, MBA

MB (Marc Braman, MD, MPH):
So in other words, these simple things that happen at the dinner table are growing brain areas that grow us beyond and out of immature attention deficits sorts of functional levels?

JM (Jerry Morris, PsyD, MSPharm, MBA):
There’s no question about that. Clear research on neuroplasticity shows that that happens. It shows it happens more quickly in kids because they’re at that more autoplastic period of life. But it can even happen in we seniors. It shows that there is a dose effect so that if a family does this at a regular time and every evening, those neurons will grow more rapidly and those skills and abilities and traits will mature more rapidly, and they’ll transfer more often the more they’re stamped in clear back to a Thorndike-an kind of research awareness to the child’s brain. They’ll transfer to other environments more readily, like school and the playground and the neighborhood.

So, what I’m hearing is that it sounds like at least one of the causes of ADD, why it’s becoming so prevalent in our society is we’ve stopped doing things like having regular family dinner. And that perhaps one of the best things we can do for treatment is maybe even prescribe, “have regular functional family dinner.”

Sure. I do this regularly. I’ve commented to you that one time, I took four schizophrenic children about eight years old that weren’t progressing, and one of the state agencies asked me to look in and to try to do something with them. And I took them into the kitchen area of the mental health center on Saturday mornings when I was there for diagnostics, and I taught them to do boardgames and had a graduate assistant or a resident with me. So, we gave them a lot of attention and focus and teaching, and over three months they learned to cooperate, respect each other, sit on their chairs, pay attention, understand the rules. And the state workers and the social service agency came back and said, “What did you do in therapy? These kids have progressed wonderfully. Their parents say they’re progressing.” I said, “Well, we played board games with them.” So, we socialized them but we gave them a lot of interventions and focus and attention.

So, prescription lifestyle medicine, have regular family dinner, play boardgames with your kids.

Well, that’s exactly right. In fact, one of the things that we therapists do in these Attention Deficit Disorders, is we go to the next intensive dose level. The family is, of course, the highest dose of these repetitions and things that we can get done easily and readily, but the next dose level is extracurricular. So, I almost always refer these families and I say to them, “Why should you do all the heavy lifting in these repeated exercises to grow braincells as parents? Let’s get them in a scout troop, let’s get them in a church softball league, let’s get them into these positive institutions and positive activities where someone else is doing these repetitions for you sometimes,” and they laugh.

That’s great. Okay, so we’ve been talking about the dinner table. Let’s move into specifically relationships. We’ve broken down in our society many of these relationships including the dinner table or over boardgames, but the science is showing that relationships are huge in terms of Attention Deficit Disorder, how that comes about, how that may be best treated. What is it about relationships that tends to contribute to or help cause, if you will, Attention Deficit Disorder?

Routine and ritual elements in family mealtimes: Contexts for child well-being and family identity. Fiese, B. H., Foley, K.,& Spagnola, M. (2006). New directions for child and adolescent development, 111, 67-89. doi: 10.1002/cd.156.

Adolescent and parent views of family meals. Fulkerson, J. A., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Story, M. (2006). Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106(4), 526–532.

Family dinner meal frequency and adolescent development: Relationships with developmental assets and high-risk behaviors. Fulkerson, J. A., Story, M., Mellin, A., Leffert, N., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & French, S. A. (2006). Journal of Adolescent Health 39(3) 337–345.

requency of family meals and 6-11-year-old children’s social behaviors. Lora KR, Sisson SB, DeGrace BW, Morris AS (2014). F. J Fam Psychol. 2014 Aug;28(4):577-82. doi: 10.1037/fam0000014. Epub 2014 Jul 7.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Effectiveness of Treatment in At-Risk Preschoolers; Long-Term Effectiveness in All Ages: and Variability in Prevalence, Diagnosis, and Treatment (2011). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 540 Gaither Road Rockville, MD 20850 Contract No. MME2202 290-02-0020. AHRQ Publication No. 12-EHC003-EF.

Jerry Morris, PsyD, MSPharm, MBA

Dr. Morris is former President and current Executive Director of the American Board of Medical Psychology. He has owned and operated mental health hospitals and community centers and has run residency-training programs. He has managed clinical programs that treat lifestyle related diseases and is a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

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