Our friends and family know what to expect when they come to our house for a meal: Jeffersonian conversations. Thomas Jefferson seated all his guests at one table for dinner, where he asked each guest a single question for all to hear…no side conversations or small-talk allowed. Sounds rigid, but these sorts of dinners are FUN over the holidays.
Conversations like the ones that ensue from the questions below help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. This, in turn, is likely to make them more resilient, better adjusted, and more successful in school (as I wrote about here). So here’s an extra challenge: See if you can get the adults to weave their answers to the questions below into a narrative demonstrating that your family members have been through both good and bad times together, but through it all, you’ve stuck together.
At big holiday meals, I will often print these questions and put one under each person’s plate. Varying the questions — instead of having everyone answer the same question — tends to keep folks more engaged. A printable copy of this list is here.
- What do you remember about previous houses you’ve lived in? Which one did you like the best?
- For an adult: What did you have as a child that kids today don’t have? How was your life better? How was it worse? For a kid: What do you have that previous generations didn’t have? How would your life be better without it? How would it be worse?
- Has anything ever happened at a family wedding or event that you’ll never forget?
- Think of some relatives that have passed away in the last few years. What would they be likely to do tomorrow if they were still alive?
- Which family member has been your greatest coach in life? How have they coached you? What has made them good at it?
- For an adult: When you were a teenager, which family member did you go to for advice? Looking back, was it good advice? For a kid: Which family member have you recently received advice from? Was it good advice?
- For adult: What was your favorite movie or book when you were my age? For kid: What was your favorite movie or book last year, and what is your favorite now?
- Tell us a story about a family reunion or family party that you remember attending as a child.
- What was the hardest thing you went through/have gone through as a child? How did you overcome it?
- What are your favorite stories that grandpa/grandma told (or still tells)?
- If you could know anything about our family history or about a relative who has passed away, what would you want to know?
- What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?
- What are your best memories of holidays or family gatherings?
- What three adjectives would your grandparents use to describe you?
- Did your parents or grandparents ever lose their jobs? What happened? How did they start over?
- What is the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?
- How did your parents change after they retired?
- If you could go back to one day in your childhood, which day would that be? Why?
- How are you most different from your parents and grandparents? How are you the same?
- What did/do your grandparents do with you that you loved? (For adults: What did they do that you didn’t enjoy so much?)
Many of these questions were adapted from the “Family Gathering” edition of Table Topics.
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