As the kids get a little older, and after a long day of work, school, and extracurricular activities, it can sometimes be difficult to get the conversation flowing at dinner time. But without it you are missing out on a major bonding opportunity, as well as a time to have casual discussions which actually lead to life skills. Use these 5 casual family dinner conversation starters to get everyone talking at your next meal.
Having dinner talks that teach life lessons may seem a little daunting, but it can actually be quite easy. The secret to dinner conversations with deeper meaning that you can get your kids to willingly engage in? Don’t let them know that’s what’s happening!
Keeping it casual is the key to not letting them know your secret plan of slowly shaping their little minds into fully functional adult thinking. It makes me feel kind of like a secret agent when I can play with my kids minds without them having a clue what’s going on.
Following are 5 of my casual family dinner conversation starters that also have an underlying meaning:
- Have everyone layout their schedule for school and extracurricular activities for the week. As they list off everything on the calendar for the upcoming week, discuss any other actions required. For example, if one of your kids has to leave school early one day for a sports meet or an academic club, discussing it can lead to conversations about making sure they’ve requested makeup assignments for classes they’ll miss. If money will be needed for a meal stop, you can have them put a reminder on the calendar or their phone to be sure they don’t forget to get money from you before they leave. Just having these casual conversations about what’s on the schedule for the week can teach your kids the lifelong lesson that planning ahead makes life run a lot smoother. If planning things out in advance is a routine in your house, and one that the kids participate in, they will likely carry this skill into adulthood.
- Recount a story that includes a problem that could have been prevented. These types of stories are frequent at our dinner table. Usually they are stories about interactions that occurred outside of our family, but sometimes our own family members (me included!) provide the material. For instance, recently while staying in separate rooms at a hotel during a school sponsored trip, I got a text from my daughter at 11:00 pm. We were all supposed to be up early the next morning and I had just fallen asleep when the sound of an incoming text awoke me. The message read that she had just washed her hair but did not have a comb. They weren’t supposed to leave their rooms, so I threw some clothes on over my pajamas and walked down 3 flights of stairs to hand her a comb. She felt bad, and I felt…. tired, and unable to immediately go back to sleep. That incident later led to a dinner time story with an underlying message about thinking ahead. It was mostly told as a funny story but at the end I threw in a quick reminder that when you are packing a bag for an overnight trip, it’s important to really think through every little part of your daily routine to be sure you’ve packed everything you need.
- Tell the story of a good deed. Anytime you witness or participate in a good deed, retell the story over your next family dinner. I once told the story of a trip to the grocery store when I saw a woman talking on her cell phone, getting ready to unload groceries into her van as I pulled into the spot next to her. About 25 minutes later I was leaving the store and noticed the same van was still parked there but the lady was gone. As I was backing out of my parking spot I saw the same lady standing at the front of the grocery store with her cart full of groceries. It occurred to me that she must have locked herself out of her car so I drove up to where she was standing and asked if I could help. I ended up giving her a ride to her home a couple of miles from the store. It was a very hot summer day and she had a cart full of ice cream, milk and other perishables. As it turned out, her mother-in-law was in town visiting and waiting for her to return. The woman’s husband was at work, unable to help, and she was new to the area and did not have anyone else to call. She was so grateful to have a ride and to save her groceries from spoiling. In a world where it feels like there is bad news at every turn, it’s important for kids to hear of good things that happen. And hopefully when they hear the stories of good deeds, they will be encouraged to help others in need as well.
- Ask everyone to name one good thing about their day. This one is so simple and easy and does not require much thought at all. Although it can be something deep and meaningful, it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as being thankful that a test got postponed because you weren’t quite ready for it yet. It’s so easy to focus on the negative in life and this practice teaches your kids the powerful ways that focusing on the positives can really change your perspective.
- Start with a simple yes or no question, but then ask them to explain their answer. For example, if dinner is a new recipe, ask them if they like it. If the answer is no, ask what it is about the dish they don’t care for or if there is anything that could be different that would make them like it more. This teaches them to think a little more critically, to not just say yes or no to something. Forcing them to think about the what, why and how of something every day ordinary can lead the way to this same type of thinking for bigger issues in life. As a side benefit to asking who likes the new recipe, you learn who prefers what type of meal. And if I get a unanimous thumbs down, I won’t make it again (new recipe fails are a real bummer, you may need to practice number 4. above to counteract the negative feelings!).
Family dinner conversations don’t have to be long and serious to be meaningful. Keep it casual and only strive for about 10-15 minutes of quality talk time. More than that and kids will likely get bored and begin to resist getting into the conversations.
This may seem like a small amount of time, but 10-15 minutes at dinner can quickly add up to over an hour of quality conversations per week.
If you have any casual family dinner conversation starters that get used in your house I would love to hear them!