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Health & Parenting

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Family Dinners: Tips for Better Communication

WebMD Feature

Want kids with better grades, better moods, and better eating habits? Start having dinner together as a family.

"Eating together is a fundamental way of creating closeness in a family," says Brad Sachs, PhD, a family psychologist in Columbia, MD and author of The Good Enough Child and The Good Enough Teen. "It's nourishing and restorative, both physically and emotionally." Studies have found concrete benefits from family dinners, ranging from higher GPAs to better social adjustment.

But if eating together as a family is so good, why can it go so badly? What about the whining, the sullen silences, and the explosive arguments? Try these tips for creating good family dinner conversation -- and help your family communicate better.

Family Dinner Conversation Tips

It's smart to put some thought into what you discuss at dinner. Here are expert suggestions on how to get a conversation going -- and what topics to avoid.

Be specific. Stay away from broad, open-ended questions, says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, a psychologist in Princeton, N.J., and coauthor of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child's True Potential. "If you ask things like 'What did you do today?' or 'How was school?' you will get answers like 'Nothing,' or 'Fine,'" she says. She suggests specifics. Who did you sit with at lunch? Did you get to go outside at recess? How is your friend Sarah doing in math? What was the best or worst moment of the day?

Don't interrogate. If your kids aren't answering a question, don't keep pressing them on it.

Don't sermonize. "Don't use dinner conversation as a time to dish out sermons or lessons in morality," says Sachs. Don't twist everything your child says into a "teachable moment" or distill it into a lesson. Let your kids talk -- while you listen.

Hold your tongue. There will be times when you're just dying to bring up a touchy subject. Don't. It's not worth spoiling your dinner together. There are other opportunities to nag your kids about their homework or quiz them about their boyfriends.

Reminisce. Ever notice that close families tend to reminisce a lot? "Talking about shared experiences is a great way to create closeness," says Kennedy-Moore. Telling a beloved or funny family story can get your kids engaged. Kennedy-Moore says that reminiscing has a further benefit. Recalling challenges that your children faced -- and overcame -- reinforces a child's confidence in his or her ability to solve problems.

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