Our seven year-old is demonstrating disturbingly adolescent tendencies. Already.
“What did you learn in Spanish today?”
I get nothing, not even a grunt from the head buried in Harry Potter. “D. D! What did you learn in Spanish today?”
“Huh, what? Oh, uhhh, I don’t remember.” And then the curtain of hair falls back over his downturned eyes as they scurry back to their story.
Oh, he’ll still instigate conversation on occasion, but now that he’s a maturing, intelligent young man I’d like to talk to him more. And not just about Lego creations – although I’m perfectly happy to show an interest in the things that engage him – but about our lives, his life, things that are going on around us.
I never thought it would come to this, but this is a fairly typical exchange.
“Can I bring the tablet? I want to read,” he says.
“Because it’s a 3-minute drive down to the beach. I’d like to you engage in the actual world around you rather than a fictional one.” Which is followed by deep sighs on his end.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that he reads. Hell, my wife and I had a fundamental role in fashioning this bibliophilic monster. But I want him to interact more – with us, with other adults, with his peers and the world around him. The reading is a crutch, a wormhole he can disappear down so as to avoid the swirling chaos of life as it is actually lived. So I began to cast about for tools to help unlock his reticence.
A while back my wife put together a great list of questions which I wrote about in Something to Try Next Date Night. Essentially they were conversation starters, springboards to interesting discussion. What if there were something like that out there that I could use with my son? Well, the internet is a wondrous thing, my people, and within 0.26 seconds Google had delivered unto me the TableTopics Family Gathering card set.
A sample of the questions:
- Who is most likely to be found stealing a taste from the kitchen?
- What was your favorite movie when you were young?
- Is there a holiday tradition you dread?
- Which holiday do you most enjoy?
- What do you like to do when you’re alone?
- What’s the biggest technological change you’ve seen in your life time?
- Would you rather meet your great grandchildren or your great grandparents?
- What foods do you remember from childhood?
- What family adventure would you love to take?
- What are you most proud of that you’ve done this year?
Now many of these seem geared toward parents – What is your 4 year-old going to say when asked what her favorite movie was when she was young? – but there seem to be enough that everyone can answer, and these cards seem like a fantastic way for everyone in the family to get to know one another. Yes, it seems absurd to think that family members need to get to know each other, but how much do you really know about your parents, or your kids. I probably know more about my wife’s parents than she does, simply because I’ve asked them.
TableTopics has a fairly broad range of card sets, with everything from “Girls’ Night Out” to “Teen” to “Pillow Talk.” Now keep in mind that I’ve never actually seen these, but I love the concept and know it works, and these sets are very highly reviewed. Melissa and Doug also have a Family Dinner Box of Questions you might want to check out as well.
If anyone has any experience with these, please share your thoughts. I think I’m going to sit down with the wife tonight and order a set or two, and maybe we can kickstart some conversation with our kids. Or at least get D’s face out of a book for a while.
In the meantime, a few of my own answers to TableTopics questions:
- What’s the worst hairstyle you’ve had?
My immediate response would be the mullet I had in the ’80s, but seeing people squint painfully from the sun glinting off my bald pate these days, I’d take the mullet back in less time than it takes to say ‘follicle.’
- Does your family have a Thanksgiving dish that is sacred?
Yes. All of them.
- What are kids missing today?
Free play time, independence, and a connection with nature.
- What posters did you have on your wall growing up?
Styx – The Grand Illusion, a disturbing poster simply called “Overpopulation,” a selection of those fluorescent posters popular in the 1970s, and frequently National Geographic posters that come with the magazine.
- What is your favorite beach?
Gooch’s Beach, Kennebunk, Maine. There may be better beaches, but that’s the one I grew up on.
And if you’d like to answer these questions in the comments, please feel free!