Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Tips for Table Talk

Having conversations with your kids and your partner are one of the main highlights of family dinner. We don't have great conversations every night. Some nights it's more like a traffic jam of talk with shouts of "We need a serving spoon!", "Who wants juice?", "My dear toddler, please sit down!", "Quick! Get the paper towels!" But the dinner table is a time when we usually get to each say a sentence or two about "our day." This often leads into broader conversations or questions about the world and their place in it. My kids know that they can always catch us at dinner with questions about stuff.

Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions, suggests that you create a family dinner basket to help with conversations. Basically, it's just a box of simple ideas or questions that can be used as conversation starters. You can make your own or buy one. The Family Dinner Box of Questions gives a portion of the proceeds benefits CASA, one of the champion organizations for family dinner. More tips for getting conversations started are below.
  • Keep it easy. Talk about light subjects, not grades or chores or the day's "bad behavior." Use it as a time to compliment your child on something he or she did that day.
  • Let the kids direct the conversation. Prompt them with specific questions about a school subject or after school activity.
  • If you know your child has a story from his day (i.e., a field trip), encourage him to re-tell it for the rest of the family. Don't re-tell it for him. Encourage him to recount it, or add more details to the story.
  • Let the kids interrupt you. But try to let each of your kids have a turn talking. Sometimes that "competition" for the floor is what really gets them talking!
We recently instituted a "no TV or computer after dinner" rule, so that the kids don't run off immediately to a screen. This has definitely improved their willingness and ability to linger and have conversations at the table. Plus, they are on hand to help clear the plates and help with dishes.

(If you need the time to decompress and chat with your spouse, feel free to use the TV as a babysitter after dinner. I'm not anti-TV; I just know that TV kills conversation. So, if you want talk, nix the TV. Our TV is in a separate room, so we don't hear it or see it if we're at the table.)

Since there's no TV time after dinner, sometimes we have time for a family game. We've been playing Apples to Apples, Jr. which is so much fun. We end up talking and laughing through the whole thing. Less competitive games end up working better for us, and encourage more talking.

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