For decades, the dinner table has symbolized coming together. It stands for family, friendship, quality time, and provision. However, the generation gap, the busyness of life, and the power of screens are waging war on that nuclear family tradition. What can parents do when conversation is replaced with disconnected silence? To answer that question, I began researching proven ways to engage your child at the dinner table.
Here are my findings.
Around the Dinner Table: 6 Fun Ways to Engage Your Child
Upon commencing this project, I couldn’t think of a better way to create a bridge between today’s children and parents at mealtimes than to ask real parents from all stages of life.
Therefore, I took to social media and conducted a one-question survey to a general audience:
“Parents: What are some conversation starters that help your kids open up at the dinner table?”
To my delight, dozens of parents replied with answers that got me so excited that I started implementing them at my own dinner table that very night.
Here are some examples:
Tell a Story Together
Several parents in the survey said they improvise a story with their children during meals. Some let each child have a turn making up the whole story, others increase the difficulty, requiring each family member to add one word to the tale at a time.
My children are four and three, so we each took turns adding “chapters” to a story that involved a boy and a girl traveling to their grandparents’ house in the woods. At one point they met a parade of purple elephants. My 3-year-old even threw in a plot twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud. When it was his turn, we asked what he’d like to have happen next. He put down his cup of milk and said, “Then they blew away.”
Highs and Lows
What was the best part of your child’s day? What was the worst? Asking both questions will give him or her a chance to open up to you about anything that was exciting or even upsetting.
Audra Rogers from Real Honest Mom draws out the oldest of her two sons by bringing up his favorite subject in school: Gym class.
“I ask them to tell me three good things that happened at school,” says Rogers, “who they sat with at lunch, played with at recess or what they did in gym. The gym question really gets my older one talking and paves the way to reveal any squabbles during the day for some reason.”
Instead of asking your child, “So, what did you learn today?” try to find the subject that excites him or her the most (even if it’s recess!) and begin there. These positive triggers will show your child how engaged you are with his or her interests.
“Emotions” Pop Quiz
Emotional self-awareness is of huge importance in any child’s development. Heather Smith from Broken Beautiful Beloved makes it fun by giving each of her two young children a turn at answering questions like, “What is something that made you…”
Practice a Foreign Language
One survey participant helps her children learn Spanish in a fun way at mealtimes. She says an animal name in Spanish and the children have to guess what it is.
When my oldest was a toddler, we’d practice sign language between bites at the table. We studied Signing Time, which is a tremendous resource for kids of all ages.
The benefits of learning a second language at a young age are numerous. Not only will it bridge the gap of communication with millions who speak that language, but it may lead to greater career opportunities for your child.
Have Fun with Hypotheticals
Many parents provided great examples of engaging their children’s imagination. For example, here are some questions you can ask your child (at any age):
If you could…(i.e. Go anywhere today, befriend someone in your class, have a superpower, etc.)
Would you rather…(i.e. Kiss a frog or take a mud bath, go to Paris or Hawaii, fly to Mars or the bottom of the ocean?)
These questions, along with the rest of the suggestions, have already begun to liven up my own dinner table conversations. Apply a few of these today and see how they help engage your child in new and fun ways this week.
-- Laura Harris
Join the conversation