Monday, March 20, 2017

The Dinner Talk Game

Today, I'm sharing a simple conversation game that has made mealtimes much more enjoyable for our family.

Weekday evenings around 5:30 PM is dinnertime in the One Hot Stove household- and it is peak chaos. We enjoy gathering together in the kitchen but it is a race against time as V and I tag-team to get everyone fed, bathed and tucked safely into bed. Amid the many distractions, we try to keep a dinnertime conversation going with Lila.  But everyone tends to be worn out by this time and a tired question like, "How was school?" gets equally tired answers like "Fine" or "OK" or just a wordless shrug.

Somewhere along the way, we started playing the Mad-Sad-Glad game- I forget where I came across this idea. You go around the table, and each person shares something that made them mad that day, something that made them sad and something that made them glad. It is a simple yet powerful prompt to think about the happenings of the day and share some of the ups and downs, and gives an opening to talk about things that may be worrying or upsetting you (the sad and mad bits) and find something to be excited, happy or grateful about (the glad bit).

With the success of Mad-Sad-Glad, I spent some time collecting other conversation prompts from various websites and typed up about 50 questions and printed them out- a handful of strips of paper that became our "dinner talk game". At dinner, we take turns picking questions and go around the table answering them. The questions are light-hearted, with the intention of learning more about each other's preferences, dreams, wishes and personality. I chose them to be engaging to preschoolers, but fun for any age. We have many hilarious and warm conversations based off these random questions.


For instance, for the question, "What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited", Lila surprised me by saying it was her best friend's room. Why? "Because she has so many pink toys."

For the question, "What would you rename yourself", the answer was "Unicorna" LOL LOL LOL

Some of the questions are pretty deep- like "What is the hardest thing about being ___ years old" as in, what is the hardest thing about being your age? Because there is something wonderful and something challenging about being every age, from 1 to 101.

In this end, this simple game is all about prompting each person to be curious about themselves- their likes and dislikes- and to interested in others.

For the question, "If you were the mom/dad, what rules would you make?", Lila said that she would have more family traditions, such as a family movie night. Good idea- we implemented that one right away. Since December, Friday nights are movie nights at our house, a special night when you get to eat dinner in the living room. On weekend mornings, we let Lila watch some TV, and those are the times when we are using it as an electronic babysitter to keep her occupied while we relax and do something else. Movie night is different because we actually sit down, put away the phones and laptops and watch the movie with her, and laugh together and talk about what is happening. So far, we have enjoyed many movies, including recent animated like Home and Zootopia, classics like ET and random children's movies I find on Netflix, like Paddington. Last Friday, a couple of friends joined our movie night for the ridiculous Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

If you would like to play the Dinner Talk Game with your own family, e-mail me (onehotstove AT gmail DOT com) and I will send you a copy of the questions within a day or two.

Simply print out the 2 pages of questions. Card stock would be sturdier but any paper will do. Then cut the sheets down the middle, then across so each question is on a separate strip of paper. Place the question strips in a bowl or jar on the dinner table. Take turns drawing questions and go around the table answering them.

What does dinner time look like in your family?

40 comments:

  1. hi Nupur,
    I have been doing the glad/mad/sad game with my 7 year old this school year too! Not sure where I got it from either.We do it on the car ride home from school and take turns talking about our day.I added a new one this month- one brave thing he did that day. Today he stood up to a friend instead of giving in when the 'I won't be your friend if you don't do x' happened.Last week it was eating escargots and parasailing.I haven't commented before but I have been reading the blog for ever.I will be sending an email for the Dinner Talk q.Thanks for sharing!
    A

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    1. I can't have conversations in the car, too nervous of a driver and I get easily distracted :) Luckily we don't have long commutes.

      The brave thing is a good one, A! Well, your son is braver than me with the parasailing and escargot :) Always a good thing to learn to stand up for oneself.

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  2. Aha! So my son isn't the only one who shrugs and says, "good" or " Nehemicha" when asked about his day at school.
    I would like to use the questions and will email you, right after this comment.
    I'm not sure M will play along, but mom and son can do dis after school.:)

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    1. Manasi- I think "how was your day" just gets to be a boring question! Ask him in other ways and I am sure he will start talking :)

      Please do get the dad to play along- I think kids are very eager to learn about parents- what their day looks like, how they think. It is a very small thing with very big benefits.

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  3. Such wonderful ideas!! I'd love to use these. Will email you.

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  4. This is such a good post. Our son is 3 and half and still does not eat dinner on his own (trying hard to change this). He will eat snacks or breakfast on his own, but dinner time he is the least interested to eat anything. So, I feed him. And hubby hangs out at the dinner table. Because of our skewed work schedules, we rarely have dinner together during weekdays. Breakfast is gen. family time.
    A game that I have been playing with my little one is very random, and something we just cooked up sometime back. He says "hello Mr pumpkinhead", then I have to say "hello Mr ". this "something" has to be an object like chair, table, car etc, and you cannot repeat things. This game starts as easy, but after 10-15 minutes, you are racking your brain to say something someone has not said before. My son absolutely loves this game, and comes up with hilarious things. It also made me realise through this that he knows so many more things/words than I thought.
    Sometimes, we also play the odd one out game. Each will tell 4-5 words and the other person picks the odd one out and tells why. It is very interesting to see the child's perspective in why she/he chooses the odd one.
    I loved your question game. Will be bookmarking it for when A grows up a little more.
    And YES to family movie night. We started this tradition few months back. Since ours is a "no screentime" and "no TV" household which we follow 90% of the times ;), we thought it will be nice to introduce our son to all the awesome kids movies. So Sunday afternoon lunch is out family TV time. All of us get our lunch on the couch and watch a movie together. :)

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    1. Neha- Kids are such creative thinkers! Your son's game is indeed a clever way to build vocabulary (and a good memory workout as you try to remember what has already been named).

      Family movie time is indeed fun and I too look forward to discovering many movies with Lila- since I am not a movie person and have missed most of the famous children's movies.

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  5. Very interesting idea to engage all family members at dinner time.

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  6. Wow what a neat idea...with daddy traveling to work on weekdays, i am usually struggling to keep electronics away from the table during meal times as I try to juggle my 6.5 year old and almost 2 year old... will definitely try this out..
    Also we do something similar at night just before we doze off. My daughter and I talk about the "3 top things" from our day. On certain days, we really have to rack our brains to come up with something that made us smile even if it was as simple as "my baby brother gave me a hug after school". Just to instill a sense of gratitude even on the toughest days.
    -sangeetha

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    1. Sangeetha- Juggling two kids of different ages by yourself at that most tired time of day can't be easy! But truly, I find that a game like this one lightens the mood and make time go by quickly.

      I love your idea of practicing gratitude at the end of the day- what a sweet tradition. Yes, even the fact that we have a cozy bed to sleep on is reason enough to smile.

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  7. Great idea - and your kids' answers are so sweet. It is hard to get kids talking sometimes but so delightful when they do. Might try the mad sad glad and see how we go with that.

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    1. Very true, Johanna, chats with kids are most delightful once you get them going!

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  8. We do something similar with our 7 and 4 year olds. We play the favorite part of the day and sad part of the day. We play 20 questions sometimes to mix it up. Our 4 year old is getting the hang of playing it too. We have been doing Friday movie nights for a couple of years now and it is a deeply embedded family tradition now. We also have a no screen time policy Mon to Thur so, the kids really look forward to Friday.
    We eat as a family pretty much every day unless my husband's traveling but, our dinner time is late between, 7:30-8:00. What's your secret to having dinner ready by 5:30?
    I don't think we will eat dinner at 5:30 (my daughter has swim team practice twice a week and piano lessons once a week) but, maybe some of your ideas will help.

    -Anu

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    1. Ugh- forgot to hit "reply" but my reply is the comment below :)

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  9. Anu- 20 questions! I had forgotten about that game. The time when a family eats dinner certainly would depend on each family's schedule. With us, the schedule is dictated by the fact that our day starts very early (Lila's bus comes a couple minutes before 7 AM!!) so it has to end early. Dinner at 5:30 PM lets us get the baby into bed a little after 6, and Lila into bed a little after 7.

    I really like having an early dinner and bedtime, it works with my early bird biological clock :) As for getting dinner ready by that time, I go to work early and leave early, so it works.

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  10. Nupur, as always loved your blog and loved all the comments too. Being a 2 year old mom ( my daughter turned 2 just last month ), I am always looking for ways to interact with my little one on multiple levels. Will definitely try some of the games that are mentioned above. I would love to see how she plays along.

    Our dinner time usually is between 7 and 730 with little girl going to bed at 9. She eats on her own in daycare now but somehow at home I land up feeding her, dont know how to stop that. I worry that if I dont feed her she wont eat enough. :(
    When did Lila start to eat on her own ?

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    1. 2 Years is a fun age, Ketki! Lila liked to eat on her own starting at 10 months or so but every child is different. There are meals here and there when we still hand feed her- it is no biggie. The way I think about it is, I haven't come across any college student who needs to be fed so they must grow out it eventually. But one reason to encourage a child to feed themselves is more so they learn how much to eat so they're satisfied (not hungry and not stuffed). That comes with time.

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  11. What a nice idea to make dinner time fun! Would love to have your questions.

    I do something similar called good-part, bad-part as our bed-time ritual. We tell each other 2-3 incidents that made us happy and something that made us sad. Slowly our conversation steers towards incidents that surfaced other big emotions like anger, jealousy and also something that made them proud or how they helped someone and what they feel thankful for.
    Both my 10yr old and 5 yr old look forward to this routine.

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    1. That's a great ritual, Sonali! Managing big emotions, being able to process the ups and downs of life, dealing with different social situations- those are the most important things that kids need to learn, IMHO.

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  12. Hi Nupur, such an enjoyable post, and what a great idea to get family members (regardless of age) to talk about what their day was like. One idea that I came across around the new year was to have a little container (e.g. a glass bowl) in which each anyone can drop a note every time they felt grateful for something. At the end of the year, you open all the notes and remember all the small things that made you and your family grateful which you might otherwise have forgotten. Yet to be implemented in our home... hopefully soon! Will email you now for your questions - thanks for sharing!
    Simi

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  13. Hello Nupur,
    Loved this post. It is imperative to have games like this to be able to connect with kids. It gets harder as they grow to teenage years. I've many friends who struggle to pick a topic to talk to their kids who're now 11 years or more. I always used to spend 10-30 minutes with my son when he was little and now we have longer conversations over several topics from school, sports, college, politics, bullying and all sorts of stuff.Looking back, I'm so glad for this time. He's soon to be 14 and the challenges are varied. Also, finding a common thing to do as a family is another helpful aspect I've found. SOmetimes, to break the ice, spending time in kitchen cooking together or hiking or biking together and such also helps.Again for any of this to happen, parents should spend time to teach children the joys of doing things together as a family. It does take some time/effort, but IMO well worth it.

    Thanks for the ideas.We'll be using a few of them.
    Meena.

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    1. Meena- Yes, the bigger the kids, the bigger the problems :) and better to start a deep connection with them when you're talking about dinosaurs and unicorns and little boo boos. You make a great point about finding activities that you enjoy together as a family.

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  14. Hi Nupur,

    What a fun topic. My kids are about 22 months apart and were always busy playing with each other when they were younger - so meal time conversations were impossible. Then when they were older we used to watch great TV shows together during dinner time. It was our way of bonding and enjoying each other's companionship at the end of the day. No one really wanted to talk much as the kids had homework or other activities that they had to work on. So they really wanted some quiet time. We generally talked before bedtime or when we were just hanging out.

    The one thing I have learnt is that there is an art to having a conversation with your children and to keep them talking to you. Especially as they are getting older. You want them to continue to share their world with you as it is mutually beneficial at any age.

    Best
    SS

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    1. SS- Yes, sharing their world is exactly the point here- whichever way the family chooses/manages to do it, what's important is to build a good connection.

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  15. Hi Nupur! I haven't commented before but I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog and learning more about your sweet family. Stay blessed always! I always look forward to your posts and when there's one up I get a surge of happiness. And btw, today's post was too adorable!

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    1. Sneha- You're so sweet! You made my day!

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  16. Such a wonderful post, Nupur. I'll send u an email to get the list of questions. From this year, I started putting a note in my son's lunch bag asking him a simple question daily(3 things in school that were blue and green, 2 things friends got for lunch, a poster or wall art he noticed at school etc). This has made lunchtime a lil more exciting for him and he looks forward to answering those questions during snack time at home which is 5.30 pm (I know..its late, but I cant seem to shake off my evening chai habit. Also start making dinner then)...I love the Friday night movie idea...have thought of it often, have yet ti implement it..now, I'm inspired! Thanks for another great post!
    -Supriya H

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    1. Supriya- Love the idea of the lunch time notes! I keep meaning to send little notes in the lunch box but never remember. Well, Lila eats lunch at school most days anyway but I know a note from home would make her very thrilled :)

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  17. I loved this post of yours. Kudos to you for managing things so well. I have already started playing the mad-sad-glad game, and it really is fun. Your art of writing keeps me drawn to your blog. Thanks for all the wonderful information.

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    1. Ekta- Thank you for the kind note! I'm so glad you are enjoying the mad sad glad game.

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  18. What a lovely way to keep the conversation going and also interesting with a variety . We go through a smaller set of more common questions and the answers satrt dwindling to one word answers :-) depending on how tired they are. Also our meal time are later as the kids are older and have more activities/sports on weeknights. I like the idea of picking a different one evry time..
    We also do the Family movie night on Friday nights - we normally order take out from their favorite restaurant and have dinner watching the movie in the living room(which is a treat). Although lately just picking a movie has taking too much time :-)

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    1. sm- we are not at the evening activities stage yet (my kids being very young) and can imagine how tired they must get by that time. LOL- picking a movie always takes longer than actually watching it! Browsing netflix endlessly...

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  19. I have done a version where I asked what was exciting today? what was boring? what was the one thing you wished you didnt have to do?

    I tried this recently with my 15yo and got an eye roll ;-). With her, talking in the car works better - something about no eye contact makes teens talk more

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    1. Vishakha- LOL when it comes to teenagers all bets are off! When I talk to my friends who have teenagers I'm always like, wow, the poopy diapers and sleepless nights aren't so bad ;)

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  20. Loved this post! In our home, we eat dinner at 6pm. Before we started eating dinner early, kids used to come home at 5 and eat snack. Then they never ate dinner well as they were not hungry. Once we started eating dinner at 6pm, they started liking bhajis and koshimbirs and junk consumption in our home went down.
    My kids also shrugged shoulders when we asked them "how was your day". Last Monday we played mad/sad/glad game. All of us loved it. Next day as we sat at the table for dinner, my younger one asked - "Aai, can we play mad/sad/glad again today?" :) We have been playing it every day since then.
    Thanks for sharing the games with us!
    Deepa.

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    1. Deepa- YAY so glad your kids enjoyed mad glad sad. It is a low-maintenance game but funny how it gets people of all ages thinking and talking.

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  21. Try the We are the clappers game we played during our childhood in India.

    Make a group, start clapping your hands and sing:

    We are the clappers,
    Quick quick, be quick.
    Tell some ...

    Fruits names, flowers names, vegetables, cities, countries, rivers, states, colors and what have you.

    Good game to keep brains of little children working hard.

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