It’s half past 8 in the evening and Neema’s children have just settled around the dining table. Eight-year-old Aryan is glued to his tablet, streaming videos off YouTube in between his irregular bites while his sister Dhruti, has her mind on her Instagram feed than the meal in front of her. Pre-occupied from how the day unfolded at work, Neema’s motherly reminders, coaxing her children to eat, come in spurts. Over the last fifteen minutes, there hasn’t been a single meaningful interaction.

Technology has invaded dinnertime, not just at Neema’s household but across the world. Thanks to the multitudes of online distractions, conversations with our children over dinner can fall prey to one-word answers and abrupt air of silence.

How’d you sleep? Fine. How was school? Good. How much do you love me? Ugh, stop.

We may not be the first generation of parents to deal with this communication breakdown, but we are the first to compete with social media and apps vying for our kid’s attention.

So how we deal this breakdown? At Ekya, we explored the problem with our team, members of the Ekya Learning Centre and the teaching staff – parents of students from pre-primary to senior school and here is what we learnt.

Why Dinner

Dinner is that meal of the day when everyone comes together to break bread together. It is the perfect time for parents and children to revive the lost art of genuine conversation.

“You get one meal a day, together and this time should be used to connect with everyone in the family. I always ensure my boys are at the table with me, telling me about their day or discussing a topic of interest”, says Ms. Aruna to looks into the English curriculum at Ekya.

Why is it important to get conversations going with your kid over dinner?

Aside the one meal shared in each other’s company, the dining table is where the relationship between the child and the parent is strengthened. Speaking openly to familial audience brings out a positive outlook in the child that can potentially keep away symptoms of depression. While bringing up the opportunity of improving their vocabulary and enunciation, especially for younger kids, parents can really get a perspective into the day of their child and the events that unfold in the little one’s world.

For most parents, this concept is probably intuitive, but it turns out there’s science behind it. In her bracing new book, Reclaiming Conversation, MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle explains that the rituals of dinner are “sacred.” “It’s around food where we relax,” Turkle told us, “where we look each other in the eye and say, we’re ready, we’re listening”

Family Talk Jar

A set of unknown questions left to be revealed every night at the dinner table, the Conversation Jar works great, especially with little kids. A well-worded question is the quickest way to connect after a long day. It could be a topic of interest or a quirky question; these are sure shot starters that can spark deeper conversations about things that matter to your kid and you.

No Devices at the Table

To erase distractions is to cut away their source – no technology or its influence at the table. Ms. Ahlada, who leads our Computer Science curriculum at Ekya shares her dining table policies at home,

“I have a strict policy at home, during dinner. No phones, no tablets, no devices. Books are also no exceptions. No voracious reading at the dining table. Checking for emails, messages can wait for an hour”

Turkle has found that even having a phone in your peripheral vision affects the way that you engage with people, which is why a no-device policy helps cultivate good conversations over the table.

Create room for dialogue

Parents have to be genuine in their approach to strike up a conversation with their child. Create a safe space for dialogues, where they can air their grievances, express their thoughts and opinions.

Unlike exchanges with friends and classmates, dinner conversations aren’t performances where kids have to worry about how their peers will react.

“At the family table, kids learn that all kinds of feelings are acceptable,” Turkle says.

Make it regular

It’s the ritual that’s important, irrespective of what is on the menu. “Dinner happens one night, and then it happens again,” Turkle says. “It has that quality most conversations don’t: It’s on-going. Parents need to leverage exactly this.”

Getting this habit started at the table requires getting used to although we should not make an ordeal out of having a conversation, as Ms. Aruna puts it,

“No sermonising. Avoid making rules for the conversation, let it flow naturally. The topic at the table can be of interest to any member of the family. Participation is key, that is when everyone is involved and want to be involved because they are listened to, and not just heard.”

Don’t just ask about their day

“Studies show that dinner is a good place to remind kids that they are part of a larger narrative—if nothing else, it puts everything goes on in their lives into perspective”

Instead of the regular day’s proceedings, ask “Do you know where your grandparents grew up?” This is a perfect time for parents to recollect personal childhood experiences or share incidents from workplace or home and encourage the kids to do the same. Ms. Shobha from Ekya Learning Centre agrees, Over our dining table talks, I get to know so much about what kind of music my daughters listen to, what they enjoy learning, what is happening around their circles. I use this opportunity to get with the times. It is so much fun to hear from them – the latest trends and fads, the current obsessions on social media.

To help parents get started with great dinner conversations with their children, here is a list of questions that can be quizzed over at the dining table:

Posted by Ekya

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