The family dinner table is a place to be intentional to develop communication and people skills.

Dine together often.  

It is extremely important that we take inventory of our own conversational skills and those of our children. 


Family album photo from 2001, kids range in ages from 1 – 12. Family Fondue Night… a longer night of cooking together and talking together over fondue. 

Previously I wrote about evaluating your own social skills. You’ve had a few days to ask someone for their input in revealing any blind spots. Did you do it? huh huh huh? Did you do it? I’m proud of you for desiring to learn and grow in this area and so delighted that you are teachable. Today, I’m addressing evaluating the conversational and people  skills of your children while at the dinner table.

Here’s an idea for taking inventory of your children’s social skills at the table.

Take a little notepad to the table and jot down notes while observing your children. 

You need to do this with the right motive… did you hear me? The motive of quietly gathering information that will be used in RESPECTFULLY teaching your children how to be about others.  Do not use what I’m about to tell you in an unkind manner, to embarrass, to belittle, to chastise. None of that is needed! Observe. Train Ahead. Be a mentor.  So, if the notepad thing in and of itself is awkward for you or your kids feel like you are analyzing them, don’t use that approach. Simply observe with your eyes and make physical notes OR MENTAL notes of a few things you see that they should work on. Make it part of the next day’s TRAINING AHEAD during your regularly scheduled devotion with your children or during a time that you pull aside a child and calmly, respectfully coach on this particular trait without embarrassing or talking down to him. (I got away with the notepad thing because when I was with the kids during the day, we ate lunch together, and at that time I’d do a devotion with them so I already had a stack of things like a Bible, paper, and a pen. It just looked like I was writing. My kids were young – like the ages in the picture above.)

Please do NOT do this in such a way they feel examined or judged.

Your observation at your family meal time  may reveal ah ha moments like these:

  • “oh I didn’t realize how Shelly laughs when she doesn’t have anything to say,
  • Billy doesn’t look at anyone’s eyes,
  • Sally talks but looks at the ceiling,
  • Jacob interrupts,
  • Jared continues to take over Sharon’s stories,
  • Sharon LET’s him,
  • Bobby and Bonnie talk amongst themselves unaware that there is a conversation taking place,
  • Sue keeps getting up and down,
  • Trey is loud and even obnoxious,
  • Bob can’t answer a direct question,
  • Charles is hurtful and sarcastic…  (…and if you really had this many kids, this would be a case where writing down observations would help. lol)

Here are some things you might observe in your children (or self) while at the family dinner table followed by WHY that would be something to make note of and what to address:

  • Interrupting another child or a parent- which implies compulsiveness and basically the thought, “What I have to say is MORE important than what is being said”
  • Elbows on table, chewing with mouth open, body slouched over, talking with mouth full – shows lack of interest in others and/or lack of training and lack of manners. Simply role play and teach
  • Body posture – turned in such a way that someone is excluded from seeing another
  • Cell phone, ipad, ipod usage at the table – showing their own agenda is more important than family interaction. Have NO devices at the table. Talk with them about being fully present and engaging in conversation.
  • “One-upping”– selfishness, taking attention off of the one speaking and wanting attention for self
  • Arguing, fighting, loud talking– rather than listening to the other person and when there is a pause, speaking at an inside voice; clear sign of self-centeredness. Train to table being a time to enjoy conversation.
  • Not speaking at all or minimal involvement – yes, maybe they’re “quieter,” but they DO need to learn to show interest, give input and carry on a conversation – even if they don’t want to
  • Simple Yes/No answers – this makes conversing with them DIFFICULT and actually is selfish. Teach them to respond with “Yes, I did enjoy school today. The teacher…” In other words, to reply with MORE than a yes, no. It’s rude. There, I said it.  Respectfully communicating means engaging, as in two-sided, so teach to reply and then be interested in the other by asking about them.  For example, “Yes, school was good. What did you do today, Mom?”
  • Poor eye contact or signs of being uninterested in the conversation of others – revealing self-focus or general lack of training to know this is important. Role play what good eye contact and interest looks like.
  • Bragging – this shows their desire for attention and self-focus. Role play what this looks like and teach them to let them to check their motive before talking about themselves.
  • Exaggerating – this is actually lying. You’ll see a big difference (YAY) when  you deal with this properly and they will be much more enjoyable to be around. Teach to say the truth with nothing added.
  • Facial expressions like sighing, eyes rolling – reveals their pride and shows they consider the thought from someone else to be unimportant. That’s pride. That’s disrespectful. (even if the other person IS wrong.)
  • Speaking on behalf of the person who was asked the question or completing the story the person began – this shows lack of showing importance to another, lack of giving them the floor. The person can be controlling, interruptive, and needs to learn to allow the person time to finish…even if that person says a story differently, is slower in how they present the story, etc. Rude. Learn to sit quietly. If a point was missed, add it at the end.
  • Sarcastic, mocking, laughing at, belittling, bullying – any type of conversation that is not edifying is wrong. You need to stop this right away. Moms and Dads reading this, if this goes on in your family, YOU OWN IT. You have allowed it. The good news is that YOU can put a stop to it and change the whole tone by dealing directly with it.  Talk with each child privately, and calmly, respectfully say “I have observed you hurting your siblings by the way you laugh when they share something, or they way your humor is quick but hurtful…  I am sorry I didn’t see this earlier and that I let it go this long. I can see how it keeps your siblings from being as close to you. So, I want you to be mindful of this and stop. When you’re about to say something, consider your words BEFORE speaking. If it’s hurtful, DON”T say it. Either say nothing or choose to encourage. Okay? Do you understand why? I want our home to be safe, to be encouraging, for each family member to be respected and be able to share.”
  • A Know it All – Oh my! Please speak into their lives. So many kids grow up doing this while their parents actually see it as a representation of their children being smart. AHHH!!! It will drive friends AWAY from them. Please help. If you observe this, tell your child to let the others have the floor. And, please don’t say it in a way that ADDS TO THEIR PRIDE, “I know you know it all, but let others get attention.”  Rather, say, “Even if you know the answer, allow others the opportunity to speak up.” And please add this verse, “Let another man praise you, and not your own lips.” Underneath this, you may be raising a child with a desire for approval and attention…and like I said, wondering why people don’t want to be her friend.
  • Negativity, complaining, whining– self-centeredness and the child needs to have a heart change. Coach them on how to communicate a negative situation without the negative, whiny tone or using a disrespectful voice to imitate the teacher or friend or person they are complaining about. Don’t let your child (or you) think the world revolves around their viewpoint which is actually, quite often, not the picture they paint.
  • Disrespect in the tone of voice or defensiveness – selfishness. Role play BEFORE the next time you eat together and talk with, role play HOW the voice level, facial expressions, and teachable spirit are conveyed.

The good news is EACH and EVERY ONE of the things listed above can be resolved easily with YOUR guidance.

Here’s how you could go about TRAINING AHEAD to what you observed:

Talk with them one on one, privately.  Say what you discovered about YOURSELF and some changes you are working on in conversational skills at the table. Apologize if you’ve hurt them. Period. Don’t add any” but’s” as in, “I am sorry I get angry so easily, but you can make me so mad.”  NOOO!! Don’t destroy what you are on the way of building. Just apologize for what YOU OWN in the way of your behavior. This will help them be teachable to what you are about to kindly share with them. This does not have to be a big ol’ come to Jesus meeting… simply find a few minutes alone and share as if you’re sitting together reading a book, or while riding in the car, or taking a walk around the block.  It’s a great idea to say that you were also noticing YOUR OWN conversational skills at the table and saw… (explain) and that you are going to work on that so that you are more … (inclusive of others, respectful to Dad, less frazzled, or whatever it is.

Then, lovingly revealing to him your observation and explaining the foundation of being respectful.  Then share one or a few simple things and explain why… with the end result being to be more aware of those around and respect to all at the table.

Role play and train ahead to “the next time we are together at the table” how can you handle this by showing respect? And give them a real scenario that might be expected so you can see how they would handle themselves.  (“The next time Johnny talks and you’re so excited because you’ve also done what he did and want to tell everyone right then, what can you do instead to show respect for Johnny?”  wait for him to finish and if your story still applies, share it… as long as your motive isn’t to “one-up” him, to have a bigger, better story and get attention…”)

This process is ongoing, but when they understand the overall perspective of showing RESPECT FOR OTHERS and CONSIDERING OTHERS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THEMSELVES, they will be well on their way to great dinner time conversations in your home, out of your home, with family, or with others.  

And on a side note: just last night, after writing this post and pondering on its content, my family and a cousin were having dinner together and we discussed a “family gene” that we all seem to have that we are still working on.  Here’s an example: Upon entering the elevator and it’s raining outside, we might say, “Isn’t it a lovely day?”  Our MOTIVE is right – to have others laugh, to lighten the tone, make people feel comfortable. We all laughed and agreed we do the same thing. HOWEVER, what we are all learning and in various stages of catching this trait still present is that THERE IS A BETTER WAY that can OMIT the unnecessary sarcasm. Instead we could enter and say “Hello” with great eye contact and a smile, followed by the truth, “Wow. It is really raining out there. Hope you all brought umbrellas.”  Hmm. Think about that. Keepin’ it real.

Rhonda yourintentionaltrainingisgoingtopayoffbigtime ellis