Encouraging Dinner Conversation

Psychology professor and mother Anne K. Fishel offers suggestions on how to overcome dinner conversation challenges with your kids.

| February 2015

  • One way to encourage your kids to participate in dinner conversation is to ask a question that shows that the details of their lives matter enough for you to have remembered them.
    Photo by Fotolia/bst2012
  • "Home for Dinner," by Anne K. Fishel, aims to ease the stress of family dinners by focusing on encouraging talking and listening and cultivating healthy eating habits.
    Cover courtesy AMACOM Books

Home for Dinner (AMACOM Books, 2015), by Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D., is in an invitation back to the table, with many practical tips, playful ideas and tasty recipes, plus a little science to explain the benefits beyond nutrition. Fishel combines insights from experts with experiences that show how sharing food has the power to heal and strengthen families and nourish children’s development and well-being. The following excerpt from Chapter 6, “Table Talk that Goes Beyond ‘How Was Your Day?’” gives you tips on deepening dinner conversation with your kids and managing conflict during mealtime.

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In most families, the bread and butter of dinnertime talk centers around the question, “How was your day?” In some families, this simple question opens the floodgates: Kids will talk about recess, or about a rebuke someone endured from a teacher, or about an intriguing moral dilemma that arose in class. But some kids will only respond with a one-word answer: “Okay.” In other families, one member grabs all the airtime and rattles off a string of anecdotes about what happened during the day; meanwhile, everyone else will be tapping toes, impatient to get a word in edgewise.

In this chapter, I give some suggestions about how to overcome these and other table talk challenges so that you can increase your family members’ desire to talk and also to listen to each other.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have family members who need little prompting to gush about their days, it can be interesting and fun to raise some other topics for discussion. A steady diet of “how was your day” questions can feel like eating the same meal night after night. So, like switching up the menu, it’s good to add some variety and surprise. Games can be used to extend the time families spend with each other and infuse table talk with a dollop of playfulness. Dinnertime is also an opportunity to talk about things that matter—items in the news or abstract issues that encourage family members to think about what they would do in a similar situation.

The dinner table is also the primary place that families tell stories about parents and previous generations, stories that transmit the idea that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

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