To keep your family dinners from being devoured quickly and everyone scurrying away from the table in five minutes, try this conversation starter. Tell a story. And watch the magic unfold at your table.
Kids are accustomed to being asked questions. “How was your day?” or “What did you do in school?” Even more specific questions, such as “Who did you eat lunch with?” or “What did you do in science class?” are often answered with one or two words. But when you tell a story, that's an attention grabber. Everyone loves a good story.
Storytelling not only holds someone's attention but also opens up a world of possibilities for discussion. Whether they are entertaining or educational and raise awareness about a more serious issue, stories can bring people together. These ideas for meaningful and educational storytelling will get you thinking.
Young children love being read to. Their favorite book captures their attention, calming them and focusing them on the story. Tell a story at your table to create the same effect. Telling a story about your greatest adventure is a popular story starter among families.
One mother, Maggie, who tried this told me that their four children, all under the age of 8, sat still at the table intensely listening to her husband tell the story of when he went running with bulls in Pamplona. Tell a story at your table to create the same effect. Telling a story about your greatest adventure is a popular story starter among families.
“You are truly in our kitchen and our home most nights. Usually, with dinner ideas, but tonight we tried the storytelling idea, and they LOVED it. My husband told the story of him running with the bulls in Pamplona in his 20s. It sparked great conversation from empathy for the animals to tradition and culture, to can people turn into bulls 🙈 (the 4 year old). It was special, and I am so grateful to you for the education. I am for sure going to try the book idea as well. “ Maggie
The story doesn't have to be a super adventure like running with the bulls in Pamplona. Any story will do, since the story is merely the spark. It ignites conversation and discussion.
Another version of this storytelling technique is to take the characters from one of their favorite storybooks and create a new story together. You could start the story on Monday and add to it each day. Ask your children to recall what was told the day before and then add to the story. This can help them be more interested in getting to the table each day for story time. Occasionally, you can ask them to jump in and decide where to go next. The dinner story you tell will become a real-life storybook.
The idea of recounting the previous day's story was inspired by my children's school, Oakland Steiner Waldorf. Every morning, the teacher asked the children to share what they learned the previous day. By doing this, they improved their memory and reinforced what they had learned. You can combine entertainment with education at your table by using this technique.
When your children grow out of the storybook phase, you can still tell a story to engage them at the table. It can be an entertaining story about your greatest adventure. Click here for some more ideas. Or a story about a problem you are having. This can be therapeutic. You may be amazed at the support that children can offer. Like Dr. Andres also discovered.
Dr. Andres’s Story
“Interestingly enough, right after I [met] Caterina, I went through a really hard time, which I am still dealing with, and this interview helped me put into perspective what is important in my life. I had a very rough day last week and was going to stay at work and try to sort through things. Instead, I remembered what Caterina said, how she often recovers from bad days and solves problems at her table. It makes her feel better. So, I went home for dinner. My family and their support helped me through a rough week. If you're going through a hard time or feel you need more connection with your family, this is an easy weekly tactic that will undoubtedly improve your well-being.”
The elusive teen, as I call them. It is not uncommon for them to be moody, withdrawn, and in a hurry. How do you engage teens in a meaningful conversation at dinner? Having raised three teens, I have changed from expecting great conversations to accepting that maybe I am planting seeds and the conversation will unfold later. An example of a conversation that fell flat but sprouted months later is the “Red Flag Story.”
My husband and I wondered if my oldest would be interested in dating and how she felt about boys when she was 17 years old. One evening at dinner, I told the “Red Flag Story” about the time I made a mistake by dating the wrong person. Despite only seeing him for a few weeks, the saga lasted six months.
In an attempt to convince me to continue to date him, he stalked me. He kept showing up at my school and work. It was embarrassing and also frightening. Looking back, I ignored the warning signs and red flags at the beginning.
I told the story with plenty of details and concluded with the moral to watch for red flags and trust your instincts. After, I expected several questions and a big discussion to erupt. Instead, I felt like my kids were thinking, “Why are you telling me this?” About three months or so later, we were eating dinner alone with our oldest daughter and she asked if it was normal for boys to pay for everything even if you weren't dating.
She had a friend who insisted on paying when they went out to eat. She said she felt awkward and kind of trapped. Did he want to date her? Was this a sign he was controlling? We had an interesting conversation that lasted for more than an hour. I can’t be certain if my red flag story opened the space for her to talk to us and think about dating in a different light. Even if that wasn’t the case, I'm certain that telling a story at the table can plant seeds that will one day bloom.
Families tell me that teens are the most difficult to get talking at the table. So here’s a recipe to try. Start with something yummy, make it a routine, and invite their friends.
When you eat delicious food, your body releases hormones such as dopamine and endorphins, known as the “happy hormones.” This makes you feel happy, safe, and comfortable. The food sets the mood.
Next time your kids’ friends are over, instead of ordering a pizza, whip up a simple pasta dish. You can make a pasta carbonara in less time than it takes to get a pizza delivered and for a fraction of the cost. Plus, the kids will go crazy over it. Food can be one of your best tools to open up the pathways for a meaningful and educational conversation.
The next blog is about a delicious, family-friendly Italian recipe and tips on how to serve it to help you get the conversation going. Click here to be notified when it is published.
Create a Remarkable Conversation with anyone, not only kids. Click here.
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