Dinnertime discourse for little people

It's always thrill to see a mannerly topic garner headlines, even if only in the “style” section. And so “Table Talk: The New Family Dinner” in Sunday’s New York Times was a welcome sight. The article describes the habits, conventions and rituals of family dinner conversations, cites examples from the childhoods of famous and/or highly successful people, including Johnathan Safran Foer, Amy Chua, Laurie David, and Rahm Emmanuel, and describes the Obama family “rose and thorn” ritual in which family members enumerate the high and low point of their day.

While some might find such family conversation strategies contrived, I was inspired. Would it be possible to use the “rose and thorn” trick to steer our family dinner conversation away from Star Wars, Captain Underpants, and Why can’t I go see the Hunger Games? Could we manage to banter about ethical conundrums? Geopolitics? Would heated discussions of current events propel my children into fame, fortune and politics as it in the Emmanuel family?  Hardly, yet it’s worth the effort. Guiding our children towards informed conversations means setting expectations about behavior, treating them with the civility and respect we hope they will show others, and teaching them about the larger world. Such family table talk is hardly “new” as the New York Times title suggest. It's just good manners.


Kate said...

I didn't see that article. Did it mention the impact on literacy development? A Harvard researcher, Catherine Snow, did family research that found the amount of time spent in family meals during the preschool years is related to the level of achievement in vocabulary and reading during elementary school years. So sit down together and eat for goodness sakes!

EHP said...

Kate - it did not mention that - interesting! I think it was meant to be a little fluffier than that and was mostly anecdotal.

I dispair the no amount of family dinners will do much for my 3 year old, though, since he can't get a word in edgewise at our dinner table. Hopefully there is some other counterbalancing positive effect of lots of older sibs :)

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