Finally carved out a night for your family to sit down and eat a meal together? Make it playful with games that spark conversation and strengthen family relationships.
"We no longer plant vegetables or quilt on the front porch together, so meal time is one of the few times of the day when a family connects with one another," says Dr. Anne Fishel, author of Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids.
Eating dinner together also provides parents with an opportunity to model face-to-face social skills and etiquette. It's increasingly important to develop these skills in children whose communication largely is conducted through technology. Designate mealtime "tech-free" to ensure your family's attention is on each other.
Get the conversation going with these games, recommended by mothers of children from preschoolers to teens.
Two truths and a lie. I came up with this game, which helps me learn something new about my children's day. To play, go around the table and take turns sharing two events that happened that day and one that did not. Who can guess which one is false?
Draw forth a discussion. Christie Zemencik, a mother of daughters ages 9, 16 and 20, covers the table with butcher paper and puts out crayons. "My girls draw or write random things that usually lead to conversations as to why that was on their minds," Zemencik says.
High-Low. Adrienne Dreher, a mother of sons ages 5 and 8, says she and her boys discuss the ups and downs of the day: "What was the best thing that happened to you today? What was the hardest?" are conversation starters.
Conversation in a jar. Karen Conklin, mom of three children ages 4, 8 and 10 years old, created a jar with conversation starters on strips of paper. "An example is 'Name two people who made you smile today and why," she says.
Table topics. Julie Melchior, whose children are 10, 13 and 16, purchased a pack of Christmas-themed conversation questions one year. Each night the family selected a card to discuss. "The kids couldn't wait to sit down and get the cards passed out," Melchior says. "It was so interesting for my husband and me to listen to their answers and hear what they remembered from their past holidays. ... We talked about things that probably wouldn't come up in normal dinnertime conversation."
Find Kid Talk: Conversation Cards, Crunch a Color Conversation Starters, Chat Packs or Table Topics are available at area retailers, bookstores or online. For additional ideas, visit The Family Dinner Project at www.thefamilydinnerproject.org.
— Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance journalist and author of the book Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.