When I was a little girl my grandmother lived with us, and one of my favorite activities was to have a cup of tea with her and listen to her stories about when she was a little girl. My other grandma didn’t live with us, but I have precious memories of sitting on her living room floor, and asking a million questions about the pictures in her photo albums.
I still remember my grandmothers’ stories, and thinking of them reminds me of how much I loved them both. Looking back on it now, I realize that while the stories were valuable, the stories weren’t the most important thing. The most important thing was actually talking with – conversing with my grandmothers. Conversations are the foundation of relationships and, after a person is gone, of memories. I can’t imagine what my memories of any of my grandparents or of my dad, who passed away in 2000, would be if I hadn’t had many, many conversations with them.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time for us, as parents, to encourage and maybe even, require our kids to have actual conversations with their extended family members. I know from being a mom and a teacher that some kids might find it uncomfortable or even difficult, but this Thanksgiving could be our kids last chance to have the type of meaningful conversations with our relatives that create relationships and memories. We should all make the effort to converse with one another.
Below are ways that we can help prepare our kids to have meaningful conversations with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and those people you aren’t sure where they fit into the family tree.
Discuss with your kids what a good conversation looks like. At school when I ask this question, my middle-schoolers know that a conversation means not only listening and speaking, but also eye contact, speaking clearly, and speaking loud enough to be heard – no mumbling! We also discuss active listening skills such as leaning in, nodding, and asking pertinent questions.
While most kids can list the components of a conversation, like anything, practice definitely helps.
When my kids were younger, I liked to prepare them for a conversation with a family member by giving them ideas for things to talk about ahead of time. Included in this is preparing them to answer the “how’s school” or “what grade are you in now” questions. Those aren’t really conversation starter questions, so it helps to be prepared.
A conversational answer to “how’s school” could be something like this:
School’s fun this year. I’m in 6th grade which means that we get to have lockers. I decorated mine with mirrors and a disco ball. How did you decorate your locker when you were my age?
This year my daughter is in the midst of reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m hoping she will discuss it with our extended family. Her grandfather grew up in the segregated South, and I think he could tell her some valuable stories. What a great memory that could be for both of them.
Fair warning to my kids – I’m saying Thanksgiving Day will be device free. That’s going to be hard for me. How will I wish my Facebook friends Happy Thanksgiving? How will the world know how beautiful my Thanksgiving dinner is? I think we all know our digital worlds will still be there waiting for us on Friday.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s all about family and good food. I hope this year it’s about good conversations, too.