You've taken to heart the importance of the family dinner. You meal planned, you carved out the time to cook, you got everyone to the table at the same time. You are feeling pretty good — and you should. The Family Dinner: You did it!
But why is getting information out of your kids so hard? You're interested, you're available, but there's not a whole lot of repartee going on. Here are a few tips to spark that conversation and get the kids really talking about what's happening in their world. Any of these questions should keep your kid from asking the worst question of all: "May I please be excused?"
Just be prepared to give your own answers!
7 Questions to Ask Your Kids at the Dinner Table
1. "How's that Batik pig pillow coming along?"
"How was your day?" is too broad, and will likely generate a "Fine" or an "Okay." Yes or no questions will usually get you a yes or a no. Be as specific as possible to get a better response. Instead of "Did you have art today?" (answer: "Uh huh") ask about a particular art project. Then you might get something along the lines of, "Good, it was cool how the wax kept the dye from coloring the whole piece of fabric." And you're off.
2. "If you could teach a class at school, on anything in the world, what would it be?"
This will hopefully yield some pretty funny conversation. Plus, you can swing it back around to some of the classes that they are taking, and what they do and don't like about them.
3. "What was the hardest thing about your day?"
Jenna Helwig, food editor at Parents Magazine, knows her way around a family dinner table personally and professionally. She offers this thoughtful idea: "One of my favorite conversation starters is for everyone to share something that was challenging for them that day. I think it's important for kids to hear that even grown-ups have challenges in their day and to hear how they found a way to work through it, or maybe even offer advice. Hearing a kid's perspective on solving a grown-up problem is almost always adorable and sometimes even helpful! And then, of course, the adults can hear from their kids what was challenging about their day."
4. "Would you rather ... "
You can get pretty silly with these! Would you rather have live baby shrimp or foot-long hot dogs as fingers? Would you rather give up pizza or ice cream for the rest of the year? Or get serious. Either way, one or two questions going around the table may make for a whole meal's worth of conversation!
5. "What would you like to do … "
As a busy family, you've always got something coming up on the calendar. Cookbook author and blogger Robin Miller suggests turning that into dinner-table fodder. Ask your kids what they want to be for Halloween, if they've thought about their birthday party at all, or what they want to do over the long weekend or after the track meet, etc.
6. "Can you name the ingredients in this dish?"
Talking about the food you're eating is sometimes the last thing you want to do with picky eaters at the table. But one of Jenna's favorite games is to ask her family to guess the ingredients in a certain dish. (She gets to be the judge because she's the family cook.) It encourages everyone to really focus on the food and helps to educate kids about food and where it all comes from. "I find this works best if they really like the dish," Jenna adds.
7. "How 'bout those Yankees?"
Lisa Heffernan, one of the forces behind Grown and Flown, acknowledges that occasionally dinnertime questions feel too charged, especially when you have older children. "Sometimes kids will not deal with any personal questions. So try a neutral subject — for sporty kids, asking about teams they support usually works." Other neutral subjects? Books, movies, and television shows.
2 Questions to Avoid at the Dinner Table
1. "Did you get picked for the play?"
In all likelihood if the answer is yes, your kid probably would have told you as soon as she walked through the door. You can still ask — later, not at the dinner table while a larger audience listening. Your innocent question might feel like an interrogation.
2. "Did you finish your history project?"
Try to hold off asking any questions that could lead to an argument until after dinner. Yes, you need to ask these questions, and yes, your son needs to remember to hand in that permission slip. But you want the dinner table to be a place your kid wants to stay. Save these questions for another time (but not right before bedtime!).
And congratulations, by the way, on being a parent who wants to make the dinner table a fun place to be. That alone will register with your kids, even after they ask to be excused from the table.
More Conversation Starters
What are you favorite questions to ask your family at the dinner table?