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Telling Tales at the Table

Posted on: May 4th, 2016 by Bri DeRosa

How and Why to Make Storytelling the Centerpiece of Your Next Family Dinner

“Tell me again about Great-Grampa and the meatloaf!”

It’s dinnertime at our house, and as always, our whole family — me, my husband, and our two boys — are gathered around the small dining  table with an eager dog at our feet. My first-grader wants to hear the hundredth re-telling of a favored family story, starring a great-grandfather he never met.

When I tell this story and so many others, it’s a way of keeping my grandfather alive for my sons. As it turns out, that’s not the only likely benefit to telling tales at our dinner table.

Research has shown that regular family dinners like ours are good for the whole family, increasing our well-being in a number of ways including better eating habits, higher grades, greater literacy skills and lower anxiety.

But studies have also shown that what we do at the table plays a big role in whether or not we get all those benefits from our dinners together. Having positive interactions and enjoyable conversations is key.

Happily, telling stories may be one of the better ways to spend our family time: storytelling not only improves literacy skills and sequencing in kids, but kids who are familiar with their family history tend to be more resilient and have a lower risk of depression and anxiety than their peers.

There’s another benefit to bringing storytelling to our table that has nothing to do with research. The truth is that in our house — as in many others — by the time dinner is ready, our family may not be. Ready to talk, that is.

When we’re tired and hungry at the end of a long day, sometimes it’s easy to slip into silence or start giving one-word answers. “How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “I forget.”

That’s okay sometimes, but dinnertime is our moment to gather everyone together and connect with one another. Having stories at the ready, or asking fun and unexpected questions that can get the ball rolling, makes it more likely that we’ll relax, open up and enjoy one another’s company.

So when I talk about Great-Grampa and the meatloaf, or when my 9-year-old retells the story of meeting his baby brother for the first time, we’re building something that will last beyond the washing of the dishes.

Try using these family interview questions to get the the stories flowing at your next family dinner!

  • Tell me something about yourself that you think I might not know.
  • What was (or is) your favorite family tradition as a child?
  • Do you know which person in our family… (fill in the blank with a fun tidbit, such as “Was born in Ireland” or “Had their pilot’s license”)?
  • Talk about a time when you tried something new. What happened?
  • What was the best year of your life so far?
  • What’s one experience you’ve had that you’ll never forget?

A version of this post originally appeared in Kids Nation Magazine.