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Do You Talk Around the Dinner Table?

Let’s talk dinnertime conversations: Do you talk around the dinner table? Share your day? Ask your kids about theirs?

In a Family Meals Survey that I conducted in 2010, 76.6 percent of respondents said that personal news was their favorite dinnertime conversation. Another 73.4 percent said family news and 72.3 percent said what’s happening at school.

Sounds somewhat like our table.

Once the food is cooked (me), the table is set (the kids) and we’re all sitting down, I usually ask the kids how school was and what the best thing that happened that day was. Sometimes we talk about what we’ll be doing over the weekend or in the coming days. Sometimes we talk about a fun visit from a friend coming up. Or maybe I will pull out a fun imagination question like … if you could be any animal at all, what would you be and why? And we do this while also enforcing table rules — no talking with your mouth full, eating politely, etc.

The hard thing for us though is that Shawn and I come from totally different dinnertime traditions. While his family ate quietly and then lingered at the table to chat, I come from a talk-and-eat family. And since I am home for dinner almost every night and he’s not, he’s had to adapt to the way I do things.

Perhaps I should compromise more — but when you’re the one doing the majority of the parenting and the one always there, it’s hard to bend to someone else’s preference. Especially when that preference involves silence at the dinner table. But that’s a conversation for another day.

I have to tell you something though — I know that talking over dinner is important. I’ve read the research and interviewed the experts. I know it makes a differences for kids in their lives. And I also know that I enjoy it. But I also find it hard. As a child, I was the youngest in the family (my siblings are significantly younger than I am, so I spent many years as an only child), so I’m more apt to listen, observe and think at the table. Yes, I spoke at the table as a child, but I wasn’t a conversation starter. So in my adulthood, I’m more likely to respond then start conversations over dinner. Still, as a mom, the whole start a conversation responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders. If I don’t start the talking, who will?

So, it’s been a challenge … learning to lead the dinnertime conversation instead of just participate. Am I am alone in this? Anyone else?

I’d love to hear what your favorite dinner discussion topics are — or if you have some surefire discussion starter questions that make the conversation irresistibly fun. Share in the comments!


Thursday 22nd of March 2012

Our kids sometimes found being asked about their day or about school to feel too much like grilling (of course we are talking about teens here). So we like to start with safe topics like what's in the news or weather and let things evolve from there.


Thursday 22nd of March 2012

I could definitely see that for older kids, Mary. Mine are young -- 4 and 6 -- so it's a good starter for them. But weather and the news are great topics too.


Sunday 11th of March 2012

Hi Sarah,

As a mother of two, I understand your take on talking around the table. Luckily, we are able and do have dinner at the table just about every night. While my husband is more apt to want to jump to discussing his day, I streamline the conversation to include our 4 & 6 year old daughters.

Growing up as an only child, my family unfortunately rarely sat down together for meals. I made the commitment to give my children and family what I didn't have.


Sunday 11th of March 2012

Thanks for the comment, Nicole! We eat around the table together most nights too -- with or without my husband. And the conversations? The kids definitely look forward to them.


Saturday 10th of March 2012

Right now we're in the "shovel food in while it's hot in case the baby wakes up and needs to be put back down" stage of dinners. But we definitely talk during other meals we're both home for!


Saturday 10th of March 2012

Oh, I remember that stage, Kate. Eek. Don't worry, it passes. And then you reach the "can't I take a bite, please?!?" stage where baby wants to participate but needs you to feed him. It's all uphill from there though ;)

Cate O'Malley

Friday 9th of March 2012

As a single mom, it's usually my job to lead any dinnertime conversation, unless we have company over (as we often do), and then it's a free for all. We do "roses and thorns" or "peaks and pits," an easy way for the kids to share the best and worst part of their day. And then the conversation naturally flows from there. Aside from when the kids are with their dad, we eat dinner together every night. Not always easy, but way too important to not happen.


Saturday 10th of March 2012

Sounds similar to what we do. And yes, company is a free for all. In some ways, having company makes it a little easier, I think.