10 conversation starters for the dinner table

If you’re the parent of a teenager (or even a pre-teen or “tween”), you probably don’t find it super easy to talk to your child. All you want is to engage with them and to learn more about them as they grow. But with all the hormones wreaking havoc in their minds and bodies, often it’s an accomplishment to get little more than a grunt out of them – or a full-blown lash-out – isn’t it?

Why are teens so hard to talk to?

Much like a toddler, a teenager wants to explore their independence. They want to try new things and make their own decisions. Also like a toddler, a teenager doesn’t really know how to regulate their emotions. Any question that feels like even a minor invasion of privacy may result in a response from your teen or tween that suggests they feel interrogated.

Renowned author Gretchen Ruben is quoted as saying ‘Sometimes kids need us to be the coach, offering advice on what to do and how to proceed. But other times? Our kids are making their own decisions and choices, and what they need is for us to be their cheerleaders on the sidelines, wishing them well and preparing to offer comfort and support should things go pear-shaped.’ It’s an important distinction for us to make, as parents – to know the right time to ask which sort of question. For tweens in particular, says Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting, ‘the biggest danger…is trying to parent through power instead of through relationship, thus eroding their bond and losing their influence on their child as she moves into the teen years.’ So, it’s a delicate balance that involves trust and patience.

Of course, screens are in the mix, adding their own challenges. Kids are glued to their screens quite often these days – whether for educational or recreational purposes – and this adds an additional layer parents have the reach through to connect with their children.

Questions that open conversations

In an article for the Fuller Youth Institute, clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Oh Cha reflects on her interactions with her teenage daughter. She poses an interesting question: ‘What percentage of our family’s conversations is about getting to know each other more?’ What if – instead of seeking to draw out information – you asked questions that gave your children a chance to volunteer information by feeling empowered and heard?

Beyond Blue suggests a number of practical tips for engaging in effective communication with your children, such as making sure you listen without judgment, asking questions designed to make your kids feel safe and not like you’re trying to extract details out of them, showing affection and support, and respecting their privacy.

Going one step further, we’d like to share our top ten prompts for starting fluid and fruitful conversations at the family dinner table:

  1. What was your favourite part of today?
  2. If you had to choose a favourite word, which one would it be and why?
  3. If you could travel to one place anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  4. What is your favourite thing we do as a family?
  5. What new skill would you like to learn and why?
  6. If you could go back in time to speak with just one person, who would it be and why?
  7. What three words best describe your day?
  8. What are your favourite and least favourite features?
  9. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and what kind of house would you have?
  10. What do you like most about the other members of our family?

As you can see, this mix of questions allows family members to use their imaginations to dream up their ideal homes and travel locations, as well as provide insights into insecurities and fears that may need addressing. Remember to listen without judging the response, and be ready with support and a hug, if needed!
Stephanie Kakris

Stephanie Kakris

Stephanie Kakris has a Masters in Psychology and is a published parenting author. She is the co-founder of ScreenCoach, a combined hardware and software platform where kids are allocated a set amount of screen time, and after their time is up, they need to go and complete activities such as exercise, chores or non-screen play to earn more time before they can resume.
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