The Best Dinner Conversation I’ve Ever Had (with my kids)

We love family dinners at our house. Even if they sometimes don’t last very long (due to evening activities, homework, or dinner accidentally being ready kinda late – oops), we almost always make time for this important ritual.

For the last few years, we’ve gone around the table and asked each other questions from my childhood dinners such as, “What was the best thing that happened to you today? The worst thing?” But then I got the idea that our family dinner conversation might also be a good time to discuss something even more meaningful, like character traits. So then I scribbled this sticky note list along with a little newspaper clipping containing some other thought-provoking questions.

The Best Dinner Conversation I've Ever Had with My Kids on 100 Days of #RealFood

But here’s what happened. We’d sit down for dinner, I’d let the kids take turns picking a topic for discussion from my list, and then my husband and I would say, “Okay, let’s talk about what it means to have courage. It, umm, means…well, if you’re courageous then you sometimes show courage by, umm…” I think you get the picture. I’d then break a rule that’s close to my heart (no devices at the table!) and try to Google a decent description of courage. Let’s just say that while I had high hopes, the discussion didn’t quite go where I wanted.

The Missing Link

THEN, I accidentally stumbled across a book at the library about building good character with pages upon pages about desirable characteristics. It was one of those “Why didn’t I think of that before?” moments. And what happened next has warmed my heart over the last couple of weeks. With this much-needed guidance, we’ve been having the most meaningful dinner discussions (to date) where I feel like my kids are learning valuable life lessons and we’re also learning new things about them. It has also given us the opportunity to discuss some important issues like, for example, what it means to feel uncomfortable in a situation and how to trust your instincts.

Our dinner conversations just weren’t quite the same before when I’d put my kids on the spot with, “What was the best thing that happened to you today?” and my younger daughter would often say, “Right now,” which is sweet at first, but c’mon tell me something I don’t already know! I’m not saying the particular book I’ve been using is the best one on the market (again, I just grabbed it on a whim without researching all the options), but what I’ve especially loved about it so far is the way it gives various explanations of what it means to portray a certain character trait along with “what if” questions, which really get the discussion going. Each chapter also starts with an intro story, which I’ve honestly been skipping and instead just diving right into the “meat” of each section.

Truly Valuable Discussions

Just to share, we’ve been spending about 2 to 3 nights on each trait, and recently we were discussing citizenship and what it means to be a good citizen. The second “What if?” question (pictured below) brought up an important topic I’ve never thought to discuss with my kids.

The Best Dinner Conversation I've Ever Had with My Kids on 100 Days of #RealFood

My girls both had great answers for the first one, like talking to your friend politely by saying, “I’ve never had a dog – is it a lot of work? What do you have to do to care for him?” (i.e., before resorting to being the dreaded tattle tale). But then with the next question they had no idea this is not one you just talk to your friend about. And it gave me a chance to explain that safety is always first in any situation (even before trust), and this is one they’d need to tell me about immediately, no matter what, because they could always tell me anything. I’ve also enjoyed our varied discussions around how to show respect, the fact that fairness doesn’t mean everything is equal or the same, and the book’s list of “6 Good Reasons to Tell the Truth.”

Anyway, these conversations have led us to places we never would’ve gone with just my sticky note, and we’ve all really been enjoying it. I was especially pleased when my 7-year-old was setting the table the other night and said, “Mom, can it be my turn to pick what we’ll discuss out of the book tonight?” I thought to myself, “Good, she is enjoying this, too!” So, I just had to share with all of you. :)

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37 thoughts on “The Best Dinner Conversation I’ve Ever Had (with my kids)”

  1. I am going to check this out from my library, and buy a copy if it appeals to me as much as it does to you. My son is only 3, so dinner table conversation is not particularly deep yet, but I have strong aspirations to turn family dinners into an important part of our day as he gets older. I recently read a book called “Home for Dinner” by Anne Fishel, which was all about the importance of family dinners and ideas to get the conversation flowing. Since reading that one, I am constantly looking for ideas to add to my mental notebook on family dinners. Thank you for this recommendation!

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I hope to incorporate some of your teachings into our family dinners. Keep the great ideas rolling :-)

  3. That is so inspiring, Lisa, your girls are so lucky to grow up in a home where their parents care so much about developing healthy bodies and minds. I also wanted to share a fun (and much lighter) game my husband devised to get our kids talking at the dinner table–the conversations might not have gotten so deep but they did roll. When I see an interesting article in the newspaper or on a website I sometimes bring it to the table to read and discuss and that works really well, too.

    Here’s how we inspired dinner conversations at the table: http://avivagoldfarb.com/home-life-and-organization/inspiring-dinner-conversation/

  4. I, too, love that one of my favorite food blogs :) incorporates dinner conversation in the topic. Good eating should accompany good conversation. Having little idea of your background, I would like to recommend a book that we have used as a family around our table and it has been WONDERFUL and so child-appropriate for our conversations. It’s short (or long, as much as you want to make it), insightful, and uses questions/stories/case studies to help kids think through spiritual truths. Here’s the link for One Year of Dinner Devotions by Nancy Guthrie: http://www.amazon.com/Dinner-Table-Devotions-Discussion-Starters/dp/1414318952/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424444411&sr=8-1&keywords=One+Year+of+Dinner+Devotions

  5. This is great! Here are more resources for ideas on topics. Google “Table Topics” there are many different card sets for example, family, dinner party, cocktail, girls night out, road trip, kids, etc. Available on Amazon too. Have fun!

  6. Hi Lisa! I tried to order the book from Amazon Prime and it is sold out. I found a card game version, which I just ordered and am eager to try with my 6 year old! Great idea-my son asked the difference between “teasing” and lying last week, and I stammered to try to explain the difference! Hoping this opens up conversations. Thanks, as always, for what you do!

  7. I found “The Secrets of Happy Families” by Bruce Feiler to have a wonderful section on family bonding and character building, both at the dinner table and elsewhere. It is a MUST read for everyone!

  8. Thanks for this wonderful idea! I just reserved a copy of this book at the library. These are such important conversations to have with our kids, especially as they are getting older and will be making so many more (and more difficult) decisions on their own. Thanks for sharing this with all of us!

  9. We’ve been discussing the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The conversations are amazing when, for example, you get to hear what a small child thinks faithfulness is.

    1. Speaking of biblical character….. The book that has changed our life in the character development department with our 4 children is called “wisdom with the millers” By Mildred Martin. By far, this tiny yellow book is the most treasured one in our home.

      Don’t throw it out because of the cover. It is a gem!

  10. Just clicked on the link to the book, and saw there are also cards! I love the idea of pulling a card… My kids are 6 – 11, and still love the Thorn and Rose – a hard thing and great thing from your day. It always leads to amazing conversations.

  11. Do you have any suggestions for younger kids? I have a just turned 5 year old with Aspergers syndrome. I think it would be GREAT to have some discussions with him about character.

    1. Rachel – I think you could tailer a book like this to younger ones. My suggestion would be to read ahead a bit so you can adjust the discussions to their understanding (and skip things they won’t get quite yet).

  12. This was such a great post! I’ve been trying to think of a way to teach character qualities to my kids for a while now and I’ve never thought about dinner time. It’s perfect :-) My oldest will soon be 5 so I might have to tailor it a bit. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  13. My family would do this, as well. We cherished the family sit-down dinners, and still do. We once used a book called, “The Book of Questions,” that gives similar scenarios for you to think about. There are no right or wrong answers, and some of the questions listed even had follow-up questions for further discussion. Great discussion starters and also good to sit back and assess your own values.

  14. Hi Lisa,

    This questions is totally out of topic.We are looking for some good whole house water fillter system for our home.in market there is lot of people available.do know which one is good?do you have any idea on this?

    1. You know my friend Vani, The Food Babe, just installed one at her house – I’ve never done the research myself. So I’d definitely ask her (FoodBabe.com).

  15. Wonderful post because it’s not just about feeding our kids naturally but nourishing their brains. My daughter works as a Teacher’s Assistant in a Montessori (3-6yr old) preschool. She loves her job and I understand why. I’m always amazed at how much importance they put on discussing values and characteristics like courage, honor, being a good citizen. She’s always sharing with us how the kids express themselves. Teaching values is an integral part of the school curriculum. Had I known, how and what they teach, I would have put my kids in Montessori schools. Anyways…you’re post today made me think of that :)

    1. Funny enough, my girls’ school does the whole 7 Habits Leadership Program and it’s wonderful! They’ve even mentioned some of those lessons in these dinner discussions :)

  16. I love that many of the food blogs and healthy living blogs have turned into much more. Thank you. I will be sending this book to both of my sons.

  17. Free Spirit Publishing puts out some great resources for helping kids grow socially and emotionally, including this one. As a teacher, they are my go-to for this kind of thing. So glad you found this!

  18. I love this idea! Thank you so much for sharing. After reading “French Kids Eat Everything” we were motivated to improve or table conversation and we have stumbled around a little too (exactly the same situation of looking up stuff on Google). Right now we are following Ann Voskamps guide to memorizing the Sermon on the Mount in a year. We are 6 weeks in and LOVING IT. We have so much to talk about just from the 2-3 verses each week. This is our first memorization exercise and it is fantastic. Even my 4 year old recites it. http://www.aholyexperience.com/2012/01/the-1-habit-more-important-than-quiet-time-memorize-the-mount-free-memory-booklet/

  19. I just love you! Your blog has inspired so much change in my life. I’m fifty, and well…it’s not always so easy. You’re recopes are great and your “to the point blogs” are easy to read. Thank you for taking time to share so much with your readers.

  20. Thanks!! This is great! And something I want to do more of at our family mealtimes. I definitely plan to order this book.

    Another great (and free resource) can be found at Moments a Day (link below). You can download 30 Mealtime Moment Cards. The cards serve the same purpose – to elevate the level of mealtime conversations and get our kids thinking about some real and meaningful topics.
    http://www.momentsaday.com/mealtime-moments-printable-activity-cards/

  21. What a great idea! I’m going to have to try this out with my kids. It’s so much better than “How was your day?” … “Good.” which is usually what happens at our dinner table. :(
    Thanks Lisa!

  22. Thanks for the tip! We’ve been doing a weekly family dinner that emphasizes gratitude and and lately it seems like its needed a pick-me-up. I just ordered the book; thanks for including the snippet.

    BTW, I recently bought YOUR book and have been enjoying it. So far I’ve made the banana pancakes and pumpkin muffins. Two successes!

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