I have very fond memories of family mealtime from my childhood. It was around the family dinner table that I learned about the world, my family history, my sisters’ strengths and weaknesses, and my parents’ values. I knew that I had a group of loving individuals who were available for 30 minutes every evening to help me solve my problems…everything from understanding the causes of World War II for a big test to deciphering the body language of my first crush. And even though I was the youngest (and by default most picked on), my opinion was often sought and considered in helping others to resolve their issues.
In this high-tech world of emails, text messages and tweets, spoken conversation is fast becoming a lost art. As a parent, you are your child’s first and best instructor and the conversations you have with him will set the stage for how comfortable and confident he will become in communicating through spoken dialogue with others. Having a child on the autism spectrum has made me aware of how difficult it can be for many people to develop this skill and how much those of us who are good at it take it for granted. Some kids (like mine) never stop talking, while others barely share a peep. And whether they share too much or too little, chances are they need a bit of coaching on what topics are appropriate, interesting to others, and generate the give and take that is such an essential element to any good conversation. I grew up with three older siblings, so learning how to get a word in edgewise and let others do the same was a challenge, to say the least.
Dinnertime is a perfect opportunity for the entire family to practice this important skill, but so often even we adults struggle with knowing where to start a conversation that everyone around the table can participate in. I created these conversation starter cards for my family and share them here to give you some ideas. So whether your dinner companions include a new-talking toddler, chatterbox second-grader, silent teen, tired parent or doting grandparent, everyone will have a say in what to talk about.
Click the links below for three PDFs you can print out on card stock and cut apart. Then just put them in the middle of the table at mealtime and take turns picking a card. Discuss the topic until the conversation starts to wane…then have someone else pick a new one. And remember, if the conversation strays to a different topic, that’s okay as long as everyone is still able to participate.