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.
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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.
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. :)