When my extended family gets together it usually involves a meal, which is the best part! But it's not because of the food, it's because of our conversations. We have such a good time interacting, laughing and sharing!
After my hubby and I got married, but before we had children, we'd be out at dinner and notice so many other couples sitting and eating in silence. My hubby made me promise to never let that happen to us! He has conversation anxiety. Fast forward fourteen years, and we are in the process of laying the foundation of open, honest, hilarious, heart-felt and joy-filled conversation with our children that we pray will continue on with their future families.
Let's start in the present. At our house, although we put a high value on family meals around the dinner table together, we don't always have the "perfect" conversation.
There have been many nights when our family dinners involve a baby crying because he just can't get his food fast enough, while our oldest is giving every single detail about the book he just finished and he hardly takes a breath. That has made it hard for our middle two boys to get a word in at all. Or for any of us to really talk to each other, for that matter. Either that, or someone is being interrupted and there's so much noise at the table that it's not possible for any of us to truly converse. That's just life isn't it? Our boys at 8, 6, 4, and 2 haven't quite learned the art of conversation yet. But we are trying.
We believe in quality family time and everyone has to eat. So at our house, dinner is a time to create quality. We are making efforts toward achieving dinner conversations. We are trying to teach our children that life is not all about them. It's important to listen to others as well as ask others about themselves.
Creating dinner conversations is key. We cannot expect our children to know how to carry on conversations on their own. They must be taught. Conversations must be modeled.
You might be asking. . .How in the world? What is a dinner conversation? You really think it's possible to have a dinner conversation when we're chasing our 2 year-old around the house and our 6 year-old is whining about eating asparagus? Here are some ways to get started. . .
Highs and lows.
Some nights while eating, (hopefully not while chewing--we are still working on this!) we talk about our highs and lows for the day.
Each person at the table tells the best or happiest thing that happened in his/her day as well as a sad or bad thing that happened to him/her. The highs and lows of each person's day opens up conversation and allows other family members to chime in with excitement, encouragement or concern. The activity helps us share about ourselves while allowing us to focus on each person in our family as well. It also helps our boys open up to talking through their emotions. Bonus!
We recently had "joke" night during dinner. My hubby had some jokes prepared and we each took turns guessing the punch line. We also created jokes of our own, because let's face it, most 2 year-olds and even our 5 year-old still don't quite understand how jokes work.
Our 2 year-old started every joke with, "Knock knock. Who's there?" We'd all laugh and say, "We don't know. Who's there?" He'd answer with, "An alligator!" Ha! We sure had some great laughs that night!
Who showed love/Who received love?
Our family's goal is to glorify God in all that we do. A big part of this for us is showing God's love to others. So, some nights we take turns asking, "Who showed love to someone today, and how did you show it?" We also ask, "Who was shown love today, and how was it shown?" You would be amazed at the conversations that are sparked from those questions.
What's your favorite?
Oh, how we love this activity in our family! It originates from our favorite game, "Categories" that we play in the pool during the summer. We come up with fun questions for our children, and we all take turns answering and asking! For example, What's your favorite place to go on a vacation?" or "What's your favorite type of sea creature?" Everyone has a favorite or two or three and the game lets us ask further questions to keep the conversation flowing!
Who or what would you like to pray for tonight?
We always pray before our meal, giving thanks to the Lord for our day and food. But we also have family devotions around our dinner table. Not every single night, but when we do, we often end our devotions with each of us praying. When we ask our children for whom or what they would like to pray, it's a way for us to see a little bit of what's going on in their hears.
For example, last year, our 5 year old told us he would like to pray for his friend who is moving to Indonesia. At the time, Chad and I knew his friend was moving, but didn't know that our 5 year old knew. However, he found out from his friend that day at school. So, by him sharing, we were able to talk about how our little man felt about his friend moving. Boom. Conversations started.
Yes, children grow up and eventually they are able to participate in conversations with just about anyone. But, how do they get there? They have to be taught. Family meals, no matter what time of day or how often, are a great way to gather together and listen to each other, taking turns, showing love and learning respect--all through conversation! It doesn't have to be intellectually stimulating, but capturing our children's attention by keeping it light and getting them talking is the first step in learning to converse!