When the kids get older (and busier and surlier), it becomes harder and harder to sit down for a family dinner together. I get that, I do. But I also get that family dinners are one of the best ways for families to connect, take it slow and remind each other of what’s really important in life. Family conversation dinners take mealtimes with older kids next-level.
The importance of family dinners
I’m pretty sure that as a parent of older kids, you’ve heard all the research on the importance of family meal times before. A good overview can be found here, here and here, but in a nutshell: kids who eat with the family most nights of the week are generally less stressed, reported having better relationships with their parents, were more likely to do well at school and less likely to be obese, truant, take drugs or abuse alcohol.
Family dinners are clearly very good indeed.
What are family conversation dinners?
Conversation dinners were dreamed up by the The Oxford Muse Foundation . The Foundation’s general aim is to rethink the ways in which we communicate with and understand one another. In order to overcome the barriers of superficiality and gossip that infiltrate much of our social interactions, the Foundation came up with Conversation Dinners. You are seated with a stranger and instead of a regular menu, you are given a menu of conversation starters; topics to talk about and discuss together.
I liked the idea of conversation dinners so much that I tried to think how I could possibly ever find myself at one.
The answer, of course, like so much in life for mothers tethered to dear children and unlikely to fly across the world to attend a random dinner with a stranger, was to create one myself.
How to have family conversation dinners
Turns out that doing it yourself is rather fun and I am sure just as enlightening as attending conversation dinners with strangers. At the rapid rate my children are developing lately, most meals feel like dining with a stranger anyway. Would you agree?
You can formalise your family dinner conversations by printing out a conversation menu (much like the Muse’s original concept), or you can just place a pile of conversation starter cards in the centre of the table. This is my preferred option because who has time to write a formal dinner menu, let alone one about conversations instead of actual food?
The aim of family dinner conversations cards is to elevate dinner discussion beyond the usual “how was your day?” and “what was your best of, worst of, etc” to actual conversation about worldly topics, values and philosophy. Good for the kids, way more interesting for you.
You could stick to one card each meal for an in-depth conversation (our preference), or allow each family member to pick a card each meal for a more varied conversation. Younger kids will probably benefit from the ‘varied conversation’ approach. For older kids, if you choose the long conversation option, you can always select another card if the chit-chat starts to turn dry or silly.
The person who selects the card gets to steer the discussion. It’s good practise for kids to guide the conversation, ask additional questions to get people to clarify points, ask questions and generally to feel like they are the boss of the situation.
At our place, the rule is that whoever chooses that evening’s card has to set the table. It’s a little bit of a win-lose scenario, but the delight in being the conversation selector has meant that lately I have three much more willing table-setters on my hands. Which makes family conversation dinners even more enjoyable.
Click here for 100+ conversation questions to get the conversation dinners started at your place.