5 Ways to Encourage Conversation at the Dinner Table

Story is a chatterbox. She talks before she’s out of bed. She talks as she’s getting ready for school. She talks as she brushes her teeth. She talks as she follows me around the house. She talks as she’s falling asleep. The girl has a lot to say. Except at dinnertime.

For some reason, she becomes a teenager at the table, answering my questions with generic phrases, or worse, grunts.


“How was your day?”
“What did you learn?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you think the meaning of life is?”
Blank stare.

Obviously, I take this as a challenge. I’ve tried several tactics to get the responses I’m looking for–you know, human responses. The following are my favorite five ways to spur conversation. (The first one I stole from Ali.)

              1. Ask, “What was your favorite part of the day?” She may not remember what she had for lunch or what concepts she learned in math, but she will most certainly remember and be eager to retell the fart joke that cracked her up at recess. Yeah, I know, it’s not the best dinnertime talk, but it’s better than nothing!
              2. Ask, “What was the worst part of your day?” Story is rather dramatic, and this offers her the opportunity to let that talent shine. This question also opens the door for any problems that your child may not have known how to bring up to you or talk about.
              3. Ask a surprise question, preferably something silly that includes a favorite topic. For instance, Story loves dinosaurs, so I’ll ask things like, “So, if a pack (herd? murder?) of velociraptors burst from the neighbor’s house and was headed our way, what would our escape route be?
              4. Ask questions that cater to your child’s expertise, and be sincere. Why do people dance? Why is the green Play-Doh so much better than the blue? Why are leaves the most important ingredient in your magic potion?
              5. Share your day and thoughts. Yes, they are egocentric little bugs, but you are the main attraction in their world. While the topic of your 401k isn’t likely to go over well, little snippets of your day’s happenings can often get your child to talk–even if only to tell you why her day’s happenings were more exciting. As a bonus, this can help to teach your child how to have give-and-take conversations that include that oh-so-important skill of listening.

Happy dining!