For many years, I didn't worry about my kids eating meals at the table. I would often feed them dinner early and eat later myself, or we'd all eat together in front of the TV, or I'd feed the little one first and the big kids later.
Now, I am absolutely passionate about proper dinners at the dining table. My two teens lead busy lives and are often in their rooms chatting to their friends, or on their electronic devices. My seven-year-old is fully immersed in her world of friends, school, fairy books and Spongebob. With three kids of different ages and on different schedules, dinner times are often the only time in the day when we are all together.
But I don't want a dinner where we just rush through the meal that has taken me an hour to cook, straight to clearing the table and washing up (which will take another hour). I want us to sit together and enjoy each other's company, and engage in some meaningful conversation.
(Or engage in 'conversation' fullstop. I have teens. On some days anything more than a grunt is a thrill.)
And so to this end, my kids and I have come up with several Dinnertime Games. They work brilliantly to get the conversation going, they constantly teach us more about each other and ourselves, and, most importantly, they make us laugh. A lot.
1. Best & Worst
We go around the table and everyone shares the best and the worst thing that has happened to them that day. It can range from getting a huge amount of homework, to having a fight with a friend, to eating a cupcake for recess, to going on an excursion to somewhere fun. Each person gets a chance to vent and be heard, each person is required to listen, and it is balanced by a little bit of appreciation.
2. Making Each Other Laugh
One of us is forbidden to smile, and the others are challenged to get them to crack. We will tell jokes, pull faces, be silly, and try to be the first to evoke a smile or – even better – a laugh. It is a total win win. No-one can hold out for long.
3. The Question Game
We take turns asking the others questions about ourselves. For example, "Why did I stop playing tennis?"; "Who gave me the yellow bunny?" or "What is my favourite food?" It's a great way to find out more about each other, about special memories, and about what each person considers important. The answers are often surprising.
4. True or False
Each person has to make three statements about themselves: two false and one true. The others have to guess which out of the three is true. It's amazing how often we are fooled.
5. The Ongoing Story
We go around the table and tell a story with one person contributing one word at a time, eg. "Once" "a" "frog" "prince" "ate" "Peter" "then" "died". Yes, our stories inevitably start good and end in death, but they're certainly fun while they last.