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Our Blog: November 27, 2013

7 Tips for Creating Family Mealtime Chatter in Your Home

My little one likes to have “combersations” at mealtimes. But she really has no choice – we’re a family of talkers. Her older sister and brothers yak over their school time triumphs and tragedies, and Dad and I elbow our way in to ask questions, offer occasional advice, and ensure everyone gets a turn. But it didn’t start out that way; we set a “table talk” goal when we first became parents.

It turns out that eating together isn’t just about the food – it’s about family bonding and closer relationships. Here’s how to create mealtime chatter in your home:

  1. Simple is Good – No need for fancy food or a perfectly set table. Make a special meal only when it works in your schedule – relaxed parents make for relaxed conversation. Otherwise, easy (and healthy) foods are fine.
  2. Baby Talk – Even the littlest babies can learn from table time conversations. The family culture of mealtimes together, including turn-taking, sharing feelings, and family support are all “absorbed” by young minds. This sets the foundation for later on, when your little one can contribute too.
  3. Don’t Force It – Natural conversations that arise from your family’s interests and activities are most meaningful. Go with subjects that trigger interest.
  4. “And Then What Happened?” – Encourage children to talk about daily activities by asking follow-up questions about their thoughts, feelings, and actions. This helps build memory as well as their confidence in themselves. “How did you feel?” “What did your teacher say?” “What did your friend do?” “And then what happened?”
  5. Spill Chill – Model and praise good behavior; don’t stress about the rest. Spilled milk or a dropped sandwich isn’t the end of the world. Hold off on criticism and scolding. You want this to be a safe haven so your child will come to you for help when it’s needed.
  6. Manners Matter – Conversational manners, that is. Family mealtime is a great time to learn the basics of a respectful conversation – looking folks in the eyes to show you’re listening, taking turns talking, asking interested questions, and using nice words.
  7. Food Fun – Don’t forget the food! Talk about the meal, including how it was prepared, who helped, and where the recipe came from. Junior gets to pick a favorite next time – as long as he agrees to try something new (and healthy, of course)!

How do you trigger conversations at your family table? Please share!

About the Author

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Dr. Wittenberg is a psychologist specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers — and parents. She offers no-hype, practical parenting advice on her blog BabyShrink — rooted in science, and road tested in her own home as the mother of four young children. She has helped thousands of parents over the years and knows that the most common problems with young children — sleep, feeding, potty training and behavior — can be the most difficult ones to solve.