Jun 26 , 2014

9 Tips for Great Dinnertime Conversations

For many years, our dinner conversations sounded something like this: Please chew with your mouths closed. I don’t yike dis. Five more bites. What’s for dessert? You’re not getting dessert unless you eat your food. My juice spilled! Why did you put your cup so close to the edge? I didn’t. Someone else touched it. I’m going to frow up. No, you’re not. Just eat. Eat. And please pick up all those noodles you just spilled on the ground. And those peas. But this isn’t my faborite. Can everybody please just EAT?! Oh, those crazy dinner hours seemed to stretch on forever, and sometimes I honestly wondered how that time spent flinging food all over the kitchen could possibly contribute to my children’s success on their SATs. But we made it through, and now that the spills and whines have subsided, we can actually sit around the table together and talk. The funny thing, however, is that sometimes after we’ve gone through all the effort of preparing a nice meal, setting the table, and creating a quiet, TV-free space in the day for us to bond as a family, we just stare at each other as we eat–without really knowing what to talk about.  (I think we were all stunned by the silence.) After this happened three or four times without any improvement, I turned to our Power of Moms Facebook community for ideas, and our “table talk” has now become a favorite part of my day.  Here are some conversation topics you might like to try in your family.

  • The “Would You Rather” Game: Family members take turns asking each other questions starting with that phrase.  For example, “Would you rather be the President of the United States or a lion tamer?” or “Would you rather eat liver or three cans of green beans?”  Kind of fun, don’t you think?
  • Historical Events: Some families keep a calendar near the dinner table listing major historical events that happened on each day of the year.  They find the current day on that calendar, discuss the details of the event that happened, and give their children the opportunity to ask questions, share their opinions, etc.
  • Special Family Events: This is similar to the one above, but instead of focusing on worldhistory, you focus on your family history.  You could have a calendar listing the birthdays of your ancestors, when each child first walked, when you and your spouse got engaged, or when you went on a big family trip.  You could also add to this calendar whenever something funny or meaningful happens.  (It’s so nice to know that special moments will be reviewed at some point in the future, and it’s wonderful to help our children connect with those who came before.)
  • Religion and Spirituality: The dinner hour can be a choice time to read from sacred text, discuss spiritual topics, or reflect on the question, “How did you see God in your life today?”  On our refrigerator, we have a “prayer list,” where we write the names of friends or family members who need extra help or strength in their lives.  Dinnertime is a great opportunity to review that list, discuss how each person is doing, and talk about how we’ve seen our prayers answered.
  • Math and Logic: If your children are a little older, they might enjoy some verbal quizzes involving math or logic. I love www.folj.com.
  • Joke of the Day: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it works for children of all ages, and there are tons of joke websites, joke books, etc. that could provide lots of fun memories.
  • Warm Fuzzies: You can purchase a simple glass jar and a bag of colorful pom-poms, and assign each child his or her own color.  Then at dinnertime, each person describes a “warm fuzzy” from his or her day (a time when he or she did something nice for someone else).
  • Current Events/World Cultures: The fabulous book, Growing Up Global, has tons of excellent ideas to discuss geography, various cultures, and current events with our families.  I’m still in the market for a large map that we can laminate and put on our table.  Wouldn’t it be fun to talk about a few different countries each week–and let our children share what they have been learning in their own studies?
This map is hanging on Shawni's wall (from www.71toes.com). I love the idea of "showing our children the world" during meal time.
  • LOTS of Good Questions: Most mothers agree that the question, “How was your day?” is destined to fail.  But if we take a little time to get creative with our questions, some powerful, memorable conversations will follow. To make this simple for you, we’ve put together a PDF with 35 unique conversation starters.  If you’d like, you can print it out, tape it inside a cupboard, put it into a sheet protector, or cut it into strips and put them into a small jar at the center of your table.

Download your Family Dinnertime Conversation Starters here.

Our family doesn’t always have dinner discussions like the ones outlined above.  Last night, for example, my children had plenty of their own exciting things to say.  We heard about my daughter’s sixth grade graduation and about a friend who was struggling.  We talked about our summer plans, and my four-year-old reminded us how many months are left until he turns five.  We laughed at my husband’s jokes, decided we really wanted s’mores for dessert, and flipped through a couple of book catalogs that had arrived in the mail. Nothing fancy, nothing scripted.  But it was sweet. Family time is priceless, and even though it’s often messy, noisy, and frustrating, there is great power in having deliberate conversations with those we love the most. It’s just nice to be ready with something meaningful when the opportunity presents itself. Here’s to building wonderful memories around the table! QUESTION: Do you have any fun dinner conversation starters you’d like to share? CHALLENGE: Pick one of the ideas above (or identify one of your own), and make tonight’sdinner conversation into a binding family experience. By April Perry, Power of Moms

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