By Katherine Giles, Registered Dietitian and Mom of Three

Our lives are jam-packed! Families balance schedules full of work, school, sports, activities, chores and errands. Living life at such a fast pace—with quick meals eaten in the car and tight-lipped, “How was your day?” conversations—can lead to lower-quality family time. However, with just a little focus, we can slow things down long enough to connect to each other and learn a lot about our kids (and ourselves!).

At your next mealtime, regardless of whether the food is home-cooked or take-out, gather around the table and strike up a conversation with your family. Here are eight starters that may reveal new insight about your kids (or spouse)!

  1. What was your favorite part of the day? Simply starting a conversation lets your kids know that you care and are interested in their day. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a quick “yes” or “no” to ensure the conversation keeps going. Encourage them to share by talking about your favorite daily moment, too.
  2. What’s your favorite class or subject at school? Asking them about their strengths allows your children to share their accomplishments with you. Give them a chance to shine and tell them how proud of them you are.

  3. What’s your least favorite or toughest subject at school? Asking about their school struggles or least favorite educational subject can help you identify where they might need additional help, while giving them a chance to vent frustrations. The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends listening without interrupting and asking your children if they would rather have you simply listen to them before you start trying to help them fix their problems or give advice.

  4. What was today’s biggest challenge for you? Our kids learn how to manage complex feelings by mimicking how we manage them. Help them gain these skills by setting a good example and talking about your own challenges. Follow APA recommendations by avoiding “helicopter parenting” and letting kids learn from their own choices. Unless the consequences are dangerous, let them learn from their experiences on their own.
  5. What made you smile or feel happy today? Let your kids have a good giggle or feel proud for a moment by asking them about their happiest moment of the day. Don’t push for more information, simply listen and focus on your child’s feelings. Be sure to share your happiest daily moment, too.

  6. What made you frown or feel sad today? It's healthy for kids to express their sadness or frustration about a negative part of their day and for you to acknowledge that everyone, including you, has those moments. Avoid asking specifics (ex. “Did you get that part in the school play?” or “What was your grade on your math test?”) and instead let your child talk about their feelings without passing judgment or showing disapproval.

  7. What is your favorite thing to do with the family? Using dinner time to hear your child’s thoughts on the things they like to do with you can maximize the small amount of down time we tend to get with our families. Starting a conversation about this can provide ample ideas about activities to do together on a Saturday, on next summer’s vacation or even during that spare hour or two between after-school activities on a random weeknight.
  8. “Would you rather” questions: “Would you rather go to the beach or the mountains?”, “Would you rather be a giraffe or an elephant?” You are only limited by your imagination! Get as silly as you want to with these, and let everyone at the table have a turn inventing a question. Give each family member the opportunity to share their opinion before moving on to the next question, and agree to disagree over differing opinions. This can help children understand that differences are okay, and no one (especially families) will agree all the time!

The dinner table is a good place to start, but don’t limit family conversations to just mealtime. Try creating intentional talks with your children (and your spouse!) in the car, at bedtime, or any time that you find yourselves together. Life is full of different seasons, and the season in which we raise our children is fleeting, even though at times parenting is an incredibly challenging task. Make a concerted effort to regularly check in with your kids and communicate with them at all ages…from toddler to teenager!

Establish healthy habits with the Y

A stronger you makes a stronger family. Get more information on YMCA memberships and health and fitness programs at your local YMCA fitness center near you.