'What's Your Favorite Mistake?' and Other Questions to Get Kids Talking at the Table

CC BY 2.0. Nabeel H

Family dinners are supposed to be a place for deep, meaningful discussion, but it can be hard to get started.

The dinner table is where some of the most important conversations supposedly happen between parents and kids, but lately I’ve been wondering where that notion comes from. My kids’ dinner conversations consist of wanting more ketchup, needing a glass of water, and arguing over who got the bigger slice of bread. It’s loud, incessant, and exhausting. Furthermore, when my husband and I ask our kids about school, it’s like pulling teeth: “I don’t know” and “Can’t remember” are the most common refrains.

I know my kids are young (early elementary school), but I am eager to lay the groundwork for deeper discussion. I know they’re capable of it, based on the questions they ask at other times. As Jenny Anderson writes for Quartz,

“That’s partly because, as parents, we aren’t just looking to shoot the breeze. We want a conversation that keeps our kids at the table, but also builds great life skills, from casual discourse to critical thinking. We want to challenge them and get them to challenge us, thinking creatively about how they approach things and not just in the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way schools sometimes approach things.”

So, I was intrigued to discover The Family Dinner Project, which is an online resource meant to optimize families’ communal eating experiences. Its website is chockful of suggestions. The project supports various aspects of family dinner, from menu planning and shopping lists to making food prep more fun and playing dinner games to stimulating in-depth discussions.

I am most interested in the list of suggested conversation starters for children, which is more of an issue for us than getting food on the table or sitting down together. While we always start our meals with, “What are you thankful for today?”, I’m hopeful these questions (taken from a much longer list) will take it a step further:

  • Name one thing you saw this summer that you’d never seen before.
  • If you were free to do anything you wanted all day, what would you do?
  • If you could change one thing about your family or about school, what would it be?
  • Name five people you love most in the world, and why (animals are OK too).
  • If you had superpowers, what would they be and how would you use them to help people?
  • What one thing do you do now that you need an adult for but would like to try to do all by yourself?
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    In her Quartz article, Anderson has another question that I love: What was your favorite mistake? Kids find parents’ mistakes hugely amusing, and it creates a good opening for kids to talk about their own errors and how best to fix them.

    How do you start conversations at the dinner table with your kids?