Conversation Bites

Six Ideas for Connecting with Kids Around the Table

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Are your afternoons as crazy as mine?

More than likely you have one or more kids coming home from school loaded down with a backpack full of homework and a full schedule of activities on the docket.

I understand.

Many years ago, when our oldest was just starting middle school and our youngest was still in preschool, I felt like the craziest time in our lives was just beginning. The social calendar was expanding at an alarming rate while the time our family had together was steadily shrinking.

I figured that we had exactly an hour and a half after school to grab a snack, begin homework, and eat dinner before shuttling three kids to their respective evening practices. 

If I didn’t do something drastic, we were going to become ships passing in the night, roommates who barely knew each other at all.

But amidst all the afternoon mayhem, who had time to talk?

What happened to meaningful conversation? Insightful dialogue? Witty banter? I longed for the days when we’d put the babies to bed at 6:30. Adult conversation! But now that everybody had a vocabulary, it didn’t have to be just me and him. The kids could join in, and it was time to invite them to the party. The problem was we barely had time to wipe our mouths and push in our chairs before rushing to our separate cars, my husband with the boys and all their football gear in one and the girls and I, soccer balls and shin guards in hand, in the other one.

Sound familiar?

Solution: The Family Dinner

I didn’t want to be a family of strangers, or worse a family that found itself in a state of unmitigated dysfunction five, ten, or fifteen years from now. I’m a five on the Enneagram, so I knew exactly what the research was saying.  We would communicate, even if it started with a little kicking and screaming.  And even if we just had fifteen minutes, we would make every single one of those minutes count. And this is why:

  • Better academic performance

  • Higher self-esteem

  • Greater sense of resilience

  • Lower risk of substance abuse

  • Lower risk of teen pregnancy

  • Lower risk of depression

  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders

  • Lower rates of obesity

Six Ideas for Table Talk

  1. The Adjective Bowl:

    To begin, I created what affectionately and not-so-creatively became known as the adjective bowl. In it, I placed a hundred or more good adjectives. We used the adjectives several different ways.  On the first night, I had each child choose three adjectives from the bowl.  They needed to look at the adjectives, then decide which one best described their day.  On the next night, I just had them choose one adjective, then think of something that happened during the day and use the adjective in a sentence that described their experience.  On another night, we picked three adjectives, then tried to develop sentences that incorporated all three.  Every night was different because they always chose different adjectives. I would never say, “How was your day?” again. Instead, with adjectives like grumpy, sticky, bossy, and murky, our conversations instantly became much more colorful. An unexpected bonus was that my kids expanded their vocabulary as they learned the meanings of some unfamiliar words. 

  2. A Quote a Day:

    The success of the adjective bowl inspired me to create a different kind of bowl.  I filled this one with quotes—some famous and some not so famous. Each night, the kids could choose a quote and then they had to say what they thought the quote meant or what it could personally mean to them.  They were not allowed to say, “I don’t know.”  We talked about the people who said them, if we had heard of them before.  We talked about the circumstances that might have inspired them to pen those words.  We asked questions like, “Why do you think he/she said that? And “Now that you’ve heard this, will you think/do anything differently?”

  3. Highs/Lows:

    If we were running particularly short on time, we’d do something called Highs/Lows.  This is a popular ice-breaker and a go-to conversation starter in just about every small group I’ve ever been in. Everyone takes a turn saying something good that happened to them during the day and something disappointing that happened during the day.  Later, when my daughters or sons would react emotionally, we could usually trace it back to to one of the lows they mentioned at dinnertime.  At bedtime, when we had more time to talk, we could work with them to navigate these feelings. 

  4. You’ve Got to be Kidding:

    One of our favorite dinner games still to this day is to get out a book we have called, You Gotta be Kidding. With more than 200 pages of “Would you rather” questions, we can spend a lot longer than fifteen minutes around the table. For example, “Would you rather eat 10 pounds of cheese -OR- a bucket of peanut butter—with nothing to drink?” The hilarious questions defuse carry-over tension from work and school, as we laugh over the improbable scenarios outlined in the book.  Even our toddler could participate, and the ensuing mayhem was well worth the time to play the game. (Tip: This is also a fun one to bring along on road trips!)

  5. Current Event Thursday

    Back then, we had one night a week when we were not scurrying to lessons and practices.  I made that night Current Event Thursday.  At first, my kids groaned and complained over the prospect of having to scour the Internet for a relevant news article. “It’s homework!” they cried. But I felt it was important for them to understand the world and their place in it.  Lots of websites tailor their news just for kids, and these sites are an excellent resource (Click here, here, and here).  The articles are short and easy to understand. Our kids would review their chosen article, then summarize it for us at the dinner table.  The rest of us could ask questions, and usually—I stress usually—we had an interesting discussion. This was very hard at first, but over time the kids’ research skills improved. They started to find out interesting things. There’s a lot more to life than what you see on the local news. In fact, we all learned something new, and as a bonus, even the grown-ups left the table armed with fun facts to share when the conversation got stale at our own dinner parties. This activity helped our kids verbalize their thoughts on important issues and assimilate information to shape their world view.

  6. The Roving Reporter

    This one is great for little kids who already like to ask A LOT of questions! This person has the job of interviewing everyone else at the table.  He/she can ask any question they like.  It can be a simple, “What did you do today?” to “Why didn’t you let me play with your American Girl doll?” to “How do you think our team is going to play on Saturday?”  I wanted to teach my kids that the most interesting people in the world are the most interested people in the world. And sometimes, especially in big families, there might be a dominant personality that hijacks the conversation no matter where you are. This activity gives everyone a chance to have a voice.

Whether we’re at the table for 15 minutes or a full hour, we can find something to say to each other.  Everyone deserves to talk. And everyone deserves a listening ear.

Now that the kids are older and can actually drive their own cars to and from school and friends’ houses (and work—oh my!), there are fewer and fewer nights when we’re all home together. The memories we made all those years ago are even sweeter today, and honestly I think they were the foundation for the relationship we now have with our kids.

If you have any tips and tricks for making the most of the time your family has together, I’d love to know about them. Please share in the comments below or drop me a message here.

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