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When Kids Won't Say a Mouthful

The demands and realities of modern life can make a mess of mealtime - a job keeps Mom at the office early and late, civic responsibilities have Dad constantly on the go and school activities force kids to eat on the run. If this describes your family's situation, you're certainly not alone.

According to a recent online survey of U.S. adults, commissioned by Boys Town, and conducted online by Harris Poll, only 33 percent of Americans have a meal together at home with their immediate family once a day. Does that statistic jibe with what goes on in your house?

Maximizing Mealtime Moments

For some families, sitting down to enjoy a meal together isn't a priority or part of their daily routine. Others simply can't do it as often as they'd like. Regardless of the reason, when families finally do gather around the dinner table, it's important they maximize the moment.

Just being able to talk with your spouse and kids for five uninterrupted minutes can be enough time to catch up and learn what's going on in everyone's life.

Of course, asking how someone's day went sounds as easy as ordering takeout. Yet, surprisingly, many families haven't quite mastered the art of conversation. So what can you do get the most out your time together around the dinner table?

Conversation Starters

"Parents get frustrated when they ask their child how his day was, and the child just says "Fine." Or, parents will ask "What did you do at school?" and their child's reply is "Nothing,"" says Thomas Reimers, Ph.D., Director of the Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic.

If parents want more than a grunt, a smirk or a shrug from their kids at mealtime, Reimers recommends that they ask pointed, specific questions that can't be answered in a single word or with a simple gesture. The kinds of questions parents should be asking include:

  • What did you have for lunch?
  • Who did you play with at recess?
  • What did you talk about in science class?
  • What is one thing you learned today?
  • What made you laugh today?

These types of questions encourage discussion because parents can respond to the information they hear and expand on it with other comments or more questions. Reimers also suggests that parents share something about their day with their kids, including frustrating or funny moments.

Issues in the news also can make for good conversation, whether it's about an exhibit opening up at the local museum or the birth of an endangered animal at a nearby zoo. It's even okay to bring up topics or events that involve the whole family (an upcoming reunion or wedding, birthday parties or school break trips).

The dinner table is not, however, an appropriate place to bring up sensitive or personal subjects that involve only a few family members. The possible emotional meltdown or shouting match that results benefits no one (and ruins everyone's appetite). Save those discussions for later, after dessert and doing the dishes.

So the next time your family has the privilege of dining together, use the moment to share and reconnect. And when it comes to the conversation, let it be lighthearted, enlightening and lively!


*Survey Methodology: This survey was conducted online within the United State by Harris Poll on behalf of Boys Town from January 21-23, 2015 among 2,057 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact