Parent Trap: Questions for the Dinner Table

How many of you have had a child stomp past you upon returning from school with a scowl on their face and the only line you could come up with was, “How was your day?” Which elicited a response of, “Fine!” as they ran upstairs and slammed their bedroom door, not to be seen nor heard until dinner. All parents wish to be an influence in their children’s lives, but sometimes, it’s tough to know how to get into their minds and hearts. I want to help you gain entry.

First, context is key. Every child has their own individual needs that allow them to be more open and vulnerable with you. The safest context for one child might be to sit and look into each other’s eyes and share, while another might do better sitting shoulder-to-shoulder while driving in the car with you. Some kids will open up while on a walk, tossing a football in the backyard or with the lights out during extra-long tuck-ins. Choose the entry that best suits them.

I also created a list of questions to ask kids around the dinner table that will elicit deeper, more insightful responses. In my book, She Leads, I discussed ways that girls can be courageous and lead. I incorporated those behaviors into questions to allow kids to talk about meaningful things they did that day that showed courage and leadership. These are the conversation starters: Were you able to: Not let words bother you? Avoid peer pressure? Handle a conflict directly and peacefully? Set a boundary? Take a risk and get out-of-your comfort zone? Stand up for yourself or others? Advocate for yourself? Let others know your needs? Make another person successful? Serve as a confidant? Bring a group together? Help another person in need?

Not only will you get entry into their day, you’ll also be helping your kids identify themselves as being brave leaders. Too often we notice and celebrate the student council president, team captain and popular kids much more than those who exhibit these types of qualities and behaviors. If you aren’t affirmed for being brave and a leader, you may never see yourself in that light. And the school and the world need more kids and adults who live out the behaviors in my conversation starters.

These questions could also be great conversation starters around your Thanksgiving and holiday tables. How refreshing would it be to discuss these deeper questions than the latest gossip or politics. So, when your child comes home from school, give them some time to relax and reset, and then use my questions to draw out more meaningful aspects of their day. And don’t forget that mom and dad also can participate and share how they may have lived out these behaviors in their day. Enjoy your holidays.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college. Check out his new online course, Parenting girls: The challenges girls face today with their feelings and friends and what they need, at

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