For some busy parents (with busy kids), simply getting everyone to sit down together at the table for a home-cooked meal during the school year is a daunting challenge in and of itself. There are schedules to juggle and a meal to shop for and cook. But making room for a shared meal — even if it’s only once or twice a week — is important. It gives parents a chance to check in and connect with their kids; for children, taking the time to share a meal with family is a good way to gain perspective on what really matters — family — and not losing that soccer game, failing that test, or not getting that iPhone they really wanted. But when you’re sharing the table with your three-year-old son and 10-going-on-16-year-old daughter, what should you discuss?
Whether dining with toddler-age children or “kids” who are in their twenties, the same principles apply when engaging them in conversation. First, listen to the question being asked and again patiently listen to the responses — there is no race to talk first or competition to make sure you’re heard. And ask open-ended questions that will allow them to open up.
In my family, when we’re all dining together, more often than not conversation will naturally float to our next family trip or outing together, partly because no one wants to leave anyone out of the conversation. It’s also a great opportunity to share (and vet) new ideas with people you trust, whether it be for a celebration, academic decision, or trip. And if you’ve had a bad day at work or at school, there is no better place to vent your troubles than with those who care for you and can help you see things in a new light.
This fall, be prepared before your family sits down to share a meal together. Here are some family-friendly conversation topics that are suitable for all ages.
• What was the best part of your day? Worst part of your day?
• If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you want to go and why?
• What have you learned in the news this week that you’ve found interesting?
• What was your favorite part of a recent trip or vacation?
• If you could do something to change the world, what would it be? Why?
• What are you looking forward to doing this weekend?
• What family member do you think you’re most similar to?
• Honesty is the best policy — Do you agree or disagree?
Alternatively, you could also ask your children to bring a question they want to ask you, for example:
• What was I like when I was born?
• What is the most difficult challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
What are some of your favorite topics of conversation engage in when sitting around the family dinner table?