The Art of Conversation With Your Family

“There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation.”
~ James Nathan Miller

Is the art of conversation lost when it comes to your family?

One of the best ways to connect with your family is around the table. You should try to have a great dinner together at least once a week.

This is sometimes difficult to do in our culture today. Everyone is so busy! Kids are mad when they can’t be texting. Then when you get to the table you say, “What did you today?” The answer from your child is, “Nothing”.

There was a time when my teenagers stopped wanting to sit at the table with us. My husband and I came up with a plan to get our children to stay at the table so we could reconnect as a family. Now, we work very hard at not being busy so that we have to talk together.

Here are some suggestions to make everyone talk:

1. Have a meal that appeals to everyone. You know how much you enjoy a salad bar? Trying having a different type of bar. In my post Zen Meals, you can read about other “bars” like a taco bar or pizza bar. Ask ahead of time what meal your children would like and include them in the planning.

Maybe a really good breakfast will bring everyone to the table.

2. Come to the table ready to make it a positive meal!

• Don’t Nag.
• Don’t say, “You’re wrong”. If you have to chose between being right and kind, be kind.
• Stay away from subjects that start arguments like: class grades or room cleaning.
• Don’t think about something else – really listen and look into the speaker’s eyes. Mirror the speaker’s body language.
No TVs, computer or phones – let the answering machine get the phone; that’s what they’re for!
• Leave your picky eater alone at your family meal! Make dinner pleasant and model your own good eating habits.
• Yes, manners are important but don’t constantly remind them during your dinner. Maybe mention the elbows on the table later.

3. Start a conversation. Then be an active listener. Go around the table and:

• Ask questions and not just “How was your day?” but something specific like, “Who did you sit next to at lunch?”
• Say your high and low for the day.
• Have a riddle to solve.
• Have a joke that makes all the children laugh.
• Talk about a different place from around the world.

4. Ask your kids to introduce you to some music they like. We actually do this almost every day at breakfast. At one point, when my two oldest were teens, this was the only topic that didn’t cause an argument to start! Music makes everyone happy.

5. Our children actually have something to teach us! Ask them about a subject that your child is an expert on. (Everyone thinks they’re an expert on something.) My oldest knew everything about the rain forest. To start a conversation with him was easy!

You will be so happy that you now are having great family meals. Oh, and by the way, these conversation rules work with everyone!! I use them at parties when I’m not sure what to say. These tips really get people talking!!

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
~ Dorothy Nevill

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34 Responses to The Art of Conversation With Your Family

  1. Vidya Sury says:

    🙂 Such a relevant post. I hear my friends complaining they don’t see enough of their kids because their schedules don’t “match”. It isn’t as though they don’t want to spend time together and they do make an effort to get away once in a while, together. Yet, on a daily basis it seems like a challenge.

    I think I am one of those rare lucky people who has a family that has breakfast and dinner together every single day, unless one of us is not of town. I also regularly follow your tip about planning meals together. 😀 Some of the suggestions are just amazing and make me wish I’d thought of them first!

    Let me share a bit of my childhood here: I grew up in a joint family, too, with my mom, grandma, my uncles and aunts and cousins… and it was a ritual for the kids to “lay the table” – i put that in quotes because we sat on the floor with our plates. We each had our own plates. Some even had names engraved on the side, since we ate on silver plates (really). Laying the table involved arranging the plates on the floor, each with a glass of water beside it, and a mat behind the plate as seating. So, at 6.30 pm all the kids would eat, served by the ladies. Then at 7.30 pm, the elders (males) would eat, served by the ladies. Then the ladies would eat, served by older kids and the males. After this, while the older kids clean the place up, the ladies clean up the kitchen and prep for the next morning as they would be up at 4 am and get started. All this would finish by 9 pm…and we would all sit in the living room which we called the “hall”. We’d turn the radio on and listen to a couple of programs till 10 pm…and then every one would go to bed.

    I think that’s why I make it a point to see that breakfast and dinner together happen – and now it is a habit 😀

    Great post, Betsy. And I appreciate the link 🙂

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    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Vidya,
    Thanks so much for the comment! You are one of the lucky ones who are able to share meals. It seems to be happening less and less! Thanks so much for sharing your meal memories. You had an amazing childhood. My pleasure to share the link! Love your blog!!

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  2. This is so timely for me! Just last night my husband was lamenting that we’re not eating around the table much any more (which is true). It takes effort to plan the meals, shop for them and prepare them. In our crazy life, that seems to fall through the cracks too often. Thanks to you and my husband, I have renewed my resolve to bring back our family around the table much more often.

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    Betsy Reply:

    So glad it’s timely Paige. We found ourselves in the middle of it before we knew it especially because when our kids were young, they were too hungry to wait until my husband got home from work. So they ate their dessert with us. Then as they got older, they didn’t want to eat with us. That’s when we decided to make dinners more fun. Another thing I do when life gets crazy is buy those delicious Costco ready meals (even though I love cooking!). They usually last us a few days.

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  3. Pam says:

    I’m going to print this out and put it in my Thanksgiving binder. I have a 3 ring binder for each of the big holidays with our necessary recipes, turkey tips, traditions, and games we play. It will help to really remember this at those big important meals.

    p.s. Hi Betsy! It’s Pam Hascup ( from Fremd! )

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    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Pam,
    So glad you came by! How are you?? Your binder sounds like a great idea!! I’d love to hear about some of the games you play, too.
    Thanks for the comment and hope you’ll come by often!!

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  4. I love the quote at the end! And great tips throughout. Some of our best meals are when it’s something fun that we’ve all decided together to eat.

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    Betsy Reply:

    Thanks Missy! I love that quote, too. Thanks for the comment!!

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  5. sheila says:

    Love this post! We’ve never had issues with communication which is odd. All my kids love to talk and keep us all updated. Even in college now, the lines are still open. I guess I lucked out in that department!

    Beautiful ideas here Betsy!

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    Betsy Reply:

    Girls are sometimes a little more talkative than boys. Yes, you are very lucky!!

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  6. Hi Betsy,

    These are great ideas for the family meals. It is so important for everyone involved for families to connect over a meal on a regular basis. I love your idea for a taco or pizza bar and the questions you suggest are great as well. I remember getting that “nothing” answer to what did you do today in school question. It is more of a challenge now with all the gadgets, but important, I agree to put the cell phones etc. away. Great post!!

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    It can be a real challenge that you’re in the middle of before you even realize!! All these suggestions really worked for us at a time when communication was minimal. Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Hi Betsy,

    This my first visit here and I really enjoy your blog. My kids are still small but I noticed a while ago that my older son doesn’t want to stay around the table if he finished eating first. It really bothered me, so I started a game with them and we call it “Papa’s restaurant”. It basicly goes like that, they order what they want to eat and I make it fresh, on the spot. Some good happy music is a must. Of course they are allowed to cook with me and invent their own food recipes. The rules are: their no rules and if someone wants to eat while we cook he can do it. The results are great. Sometimes we sit around the table for couple of hours playing games, drinking tee, telling stories. No TV, no PC. Pure 100% quality time.

    Have a great weekend,
    Daniel

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Daniel,
    I love the idea of “Papa’s restaurant”! Sounds like you created a really loving environment and memories for a lifetime.
    Thanks for stopping by Daniel! Hope you’ll be back! I’ll check out your site, too.

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  8. Aga says:

    Those are all great ideas for communicating with older kids, I hope I still remember them when my boys grow up:) As for now, I am really blessed, my children are small and my husband comes home no later than 5:30PM, so we ALWAYS have dinners together. That makes me really happy:)

    Lately, I have discovered a wonderful blog of a woman who cooks food from all over the world, and I am even more excited about dinners, as I love feeding new foods to my guys. Her site is globaltableadventure.com, and it’s amazing!!! I hope you’ll like it too:) Maybe your boys could choose their favorite countries and cook something for you? Wouldn’t that be great?:)

    All the best, Betsy!

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Aga,
    You’re setting the stage for good communication when you always have dinner together.
    That blog sounds wonderful. I’ll check out her site. The older boys do love to cook so they might really like that site, too.
    Thanks Aga! Hope you’re doing well!!

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  9. Manoj Narayan says:

    I fully endorse this article, since I have been not able to do this in my family. My profession as a Project Consultant, makes me away from Family most of the time. My childhood was also similar, being in a Boarding school or a Hostelite in College.
    I always wished for what Vidya Sury mentioned in her reply. I feel the Art of Conversation comes naturally first from the family where you are born. For the Lucky few, this Dining Table experience helps better bonding, creates a Love for varied topics of interest, helps create a Sharing and Caring Attitude in the individual too.
    Though I am out of station most of the time, I make it a point to indulge in conversations with family through the Mobile , what we cannot do direct .This alleviates my sorrow of not being there.

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Manoj,
    I’m sorry you have what you had growing up, not being in daily contact with your family. I hope that one day you’ll be able to create that environment with a job that brings you closer to your home.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

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  10. Fran Sorin says:

    Betsy-

    It is a timely post. I think a lot of families are struggling with this. I know that I did when my kids were teenagers. But we did have dinner together a lot. I think it helped that I got them involved with the preparation of the food.

    An activity that was part of our dinner meal conversation…not all of the time….was that each of them had to come with a new word that they had learned that day and explain to us the meaning. And they also were asked to read a newsworthy newspaper/journal article and explain and discuss with us.

    It was an activity that my mother instituted when I was growing up. And you know what? It did make a difference….and prevented the conversation from being the same old same old.

    Whether or not it would be possible to do it today with all of the texting, I don’t know.
    Within the past 10 years, the world has changed enormously :)) xxoo-Fran

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    I love the idea of bringing the new word to the table. I’m going to try that with my youngest because he loves language. I think it would definitely be possible. We’re still the parents and if we make a rule to leave gadgets on the counter, if can be done!!
    Thanks, Fran, for sharing your idea!

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  11. I wrote a whole long comment and I don’t know why it doesn’t show up. Let’s see if this does. Thank you for linking to my guest post on The Bridgemaker.

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Sorry your comment was lost. But I was happy to link up! Hope you’ll come by again Harriet! I’ll check out your site.

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  12. Hey Betsy,

    I love how you point out to leave the picky eater alone, or leave the reprimands about manners for later. Would you rather have an excited, engaged child that forgets to take his elbows off the table, or a sullen but well behaved kid that never shares? Times have changed, that’s for sure. And for the better!

    Leaving judgments and criticisms at home (or in another room. ha) is great advice for all conversations.

    Awesome post!
    Hugs,
    Melody

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Thanks Melody! Yes, I would rather have an excited, engaged child. I’ve seen enough of the opposite child during my years as a teacher. It takes a lot of time to re-engage that child who has been criticized too much. I agree, times have changed for the better!

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  13. Lynne Watts says:

    Absolutely fabulous post. The real key I think is being committed to making this a positive special time. Now that my kiddos are grown, I really miss those family dinners.

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Thanks Lynne! We’re really missing our two oldest who are at college, too. And yes, it requires commitment. But it’s so worth it in the end. Thanks for coming by and commenting!!

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  14. Great ideas, Betsy! Just being genuinely interested in our kids’ interests was always something that helped communication at our house. My son was a part-time DJ from age 15 on, and I loved learning about contemporary music from him. We sometimes included music discussions in our dinner table conversations, and those extended to other areas as well. When I rode in the car with my son and daughter, they introduced me to to the currently popular music. We also loved watching the Grammy Awards together. I’m probably one of the few people my age who can identify Crunk (and sometimes even the artist) when I hear it!

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Thanks Deb! The music has been a big part of our relationship with our two older boys and it’s continuing now with our youngest. We somehow ended up with a very musical family! I love being up to date on all the latest music, too. We’ve been watching all sorts of videos during breakfast of the Grammy Awards all week.

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  15. Betsy,

    Our kids didn’t want to eat together in high school. We set the timer on the microwave and said everyone stays for twenty minutes, even if they didn’t eat! We didn’t have the money to eat out and it was a treat to go when we did on special occasions. So together we sat everyday for at least 20 minutes and talked. If someone was angry you knew they were still listening;)

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Tess,
    Love the idea of the timer! What a great idea!! 20 minutes can be enough with a teenager to know what’s going on in their life, too.
    Thanks for the idea.

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  16. JennyBean says:

    I love the idea of going around the table!

    There’s just something wholesome about sitting around the dinner table together being a family.

    As usual, great post, Betsy! xoxo

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Thank Jenny! It’s worked for us, most of the time!! 🙂

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  17. Pingback: How to Enjoy Valentine’s Day without a Valentine | Kaizen Vision

  18. Great post and great ideas. Love the quotes as well!

    [Reply]

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