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CONVERSATION STARTERS: Promoting Family Communication

How can we increase meaningful and enjoyable conversation with family and friends?

The Art of Conversation is largely the art of asking good questions — ones that draw out others' thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

The following conversation starters can be used in one-on-one interactions between parents and kids, spouses, and friends or as group topics at mealtime or any other gathering.
1.    What was the best part of your day?
2.    What was the hardest part of today? how did you deal with it?
3.    what is the good news and the bad news from today?
4.    What are you grateful for today?
5.    What's something you learned today?
6.    What happened today that you did not expect?
7.    What was an interesting conversation you had today?
8.    What something you've accomplished today?
9.    How did you help someone today, or how did someone help you?
10.    What is something someone in the family did recently that you appreciated?
11.    Who has a problem that the rest of the family might be able to help with?
12.    What an interesting book you're reading or have read recently?
13.    What are two things other people can do to make you happy?
14.    What is something you're looking forward to?
15.    If you could be granted three wishes, what would they be?
16.    How can someone help you get out of a bad mood?
17.    What is the most courageous thing you've ever done?
18.    If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
19.    How do you know if someone is the right person for you to marry?
20.    What does 'being in love' mean?
21.    What does 'success' mean?
22.    Who is someone that you admire? Why?
23.    If you had $100 to give to a charity, who would you give it to?
24.    If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be? Why?
25.    What's one mistake you regret? What do you wish you had done differently?
26.    Where would you most like to go on vacation?
27.    What's a way you've changed in the past year? In the past two years?
28.    What is one of the hard things about being your age?
29.    If your house was on fire, what is one thing you would try to pick up on the way out?
30.    How did you get started with a hobby? With a sport? Your career?
31.    Share a happy or funny childhood memory.
32.    Read a letter to an advice columnist, but don't read the answer until you give your advice.
33.    What are two New Year's resolutions or goals you have for the new year?
34.    Looking back what are two highlights of the past year? What are two highlights of this past summer?
35.    Choose any topic: school, sports, TV, movies, friends, heroes, clothes, God, prayer, decisions, music, politics, any topic. Anyone can say anything about the topic that comes to mind.
[Tom Lickona, Excellence & Ethics, Winter/Spring 2013]


Family Dinner Project


1.    Respect Your child. Let your children express their own opinions, tastes, and values — if they do so respectfully.

2.    Expect respect. Respect should be an expectation in your family because without it, little else will go well. Use terms such as respect, disrespect, polite, and rude to develop a common language of respect.

3.    Explain your new policy on respect to your children. If they have been previously allowed to get away with disrespect, Many children are on aware that they are being disrespectful. Meet with your kids at a quiet time to explain your new policy.

4.    Tune your ears to the sound of respect and disrespect. Sometimes parents fail to recognize the sound of their child's disrespect because they may be focusing too much on the content of what is said (interruptions, accusations, name calling) And not listening to the child's tone of voice. A raised voice is not necessarily a sign of disrespect, but attacking, intrusive, mean, and sarcastic words and tone are.

5.    Nip disrespectful behavior in the bud. Respond immediately by saying sharply: "that was disrespectful."

6.    Use a special tone of voice in response to disrespect that communicates to your child, "you're in dangerous territory — back off immediately."

7.    Use time outs for non-cooperation when the child will not stop the disrespectful behavior. After pointing out the disrespectful behavior in a firm voice, If your child continues, give a warning that a time out will be enforced if they don't stop. If that doesn't work, enforce the time out. Don't allow a nasty conversation to continue. With a teen, you may want to walk away from the conversation rather than try to enforce a time out against physical opposition. The key is to pronounce the behavior as disrespectful and end the conversation rather than letting it escalate.

8.    Be firm but keep your cool. Confident parenting is almost always calm, clear, focused, and assertive in times of conflict.

9.    Combine zero tolerance with a long term view. Challenge every disrespectful behavior –without exception — because that is the only way your child will understand your expectations and the meaning of the behavior or you want to extinguish. Don't expect an immediate cessation of rudeness,  but a steady decrease towards zero.

10.    If the problem is chronic and these strategies do not work, consider seeking family therapy       to focus on your parenting skills. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting style, consider getting professional help.
[Professor Tom Lickona, SUNY,  Excellence & Ethics, Winter/Spring 2013]