Meal times are a time that you set aside every day to enjoy a meal with your family. This time can also be used to talk with your children. Talk at the table can easily be more than ‘how was your day?’. Together let’s create meaningful table talk.
Let’s start with making or preparing the meal. Allowing your children to help you make meals is not only fun for the child, but also takes off some of the work you have to do! Your children can learn how to follow a recipe, measure different ingredients, and follow 1-2 step directions. With supervision of a parent, children can do things such as measuring the flour; adding ingredients in a certain order; buttering the bread; or setting the table.
Meal time is the perfect opportunity to sit down and talk with your children. There are a variety of topics that you can easily incorporate during the meal time. They include: requesting, recalling events, describing the meal, and other conversation starters.
Requesting: Your child can practice requesting a food item. “Carrots, please.” “More bread.” “Pass the green beans, please.” “Can I have more potatoes, please.”
Recalling events from the day: For younger children, ask specific questions about your child’s day. “What did you have for lunch?” “What game did you play during recess.”
For older children, ask your child to tell you about their day. What happened first, second, last. Make sure to model for your child first. “This is what happened in my day. First, I dropped you off at school. Second, I went to work and had a meeting with my boss. Last, I finished work and went to the grocery store to pick up groceries.”
For all ages of children, ask your child questions related to emotions. “What made you happy today? What made you sad? What made you mad?”
Describing the meal: While eating, talk about the meal. Describe what you are eating: how it tastes, the size, the texture, the sound it makes while you eat it. E.g. french fries: fries are long and skinny, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Additional conversation starters: During meal times you can talk about what is going to happen after the meal. Activities happening after the meal might include doing homework, piano lessons, or going to the grocery store. While talking about the plan, ask your child questions and comment on what they are saying. “After supper we are going to Grandma’s house. What do we need to bring to Grandma’s? What are we going to do at Grandma’s?” Talking about what will happen after meal time increases predictability for your child, and in turn decreases behaviours.
Another conversation starter you can use is asking your child ‘get to know you’ questions. For example, what’s your favourite TV show or toy? After your child answers, expand on their answer. “Child: My favourite toy is my Chase Paw Patrol stuffed animal. Parent: It seems like you love that stuffed animal, you take it everywhere! As a kid, I had a stuffed animal too. I had a little brown puppy dog named Boxer.”
Conversation starter for your child: A conversation starter your child can use is asking you, the parent, ‘have you ever’ questions. “Have you ever broke your arm? Have you ever been on an airplane?” Children like to see that their parents have experienced the same things as them. Children are very curious, so this allows them to ask questions about their parents.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE: It is important to have equal number of comments and questions throughout the conversation with your child(ren). Why? Think about going out for coffee with a friend. What if you only asked that friend questions or what if that friend only asked you questions? Would you go out for coffee with that friend again? Probably not. Being a positive communication partner is about commenting and asking questions an equal number of times throughout the conversation.
Life is busy, children are busy. We don’t always have time to sit down and talk with our children. Meal times allow for a set aside time each and every day to have conversations with our children. Table talk is an easy way to get to know our children and hear what they have to say!
WRITTEN BY MORGAN ZENNER, SPEECH-LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST WITH WILDFLOWERS