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The Parenting Advice That Actually Works

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Kids come home from a long day of school or camp, and they're exhausted. They don't want to talk, they don't even want to look at you. They just want to eat their snack in silence, thank you very much. But as moms, we want to train our kiddies to be good dinnertime companions. So, if you're lucky enough to be able to eat dinner with your kids each night, what do you talk about?

I've been reading a lot lately about how to get kids to open up at the dinner table. ("Ask specific questions. Don't say: how was your day? Say: What was your favorite activity you did today?") For me, the first challenge was getting them to actually sit down at the dinner table. They wanted to watch TV, they wanted to fiddle around with their tablets, they wanted to play with toys.

So I started in the morning.

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I asked my kids what they wanted to eat for dinner after camp that day. I had no idea they were so invested in their meals. But there they were, giving me a laundry list of ideas, things they loved to eat, things they weren't so crazy about. I planned the entire week around their preferences—meatballs were up first.

That afternoon, when they came home from camp, I reminded my kids about the special meal. They were so excited when they saw their special request ready for them to eat, piping hot. I began: what was your favorite activity you did today?

It worked!

I took it a step further: what was your favorite thing that you ate today? Both kids smiled back at me: meatballs.

My 6-year-old spoke first, talking about not just one activity, but all of the things he'd done at camp that day. I asked him to rank the first, second and third favorites, and he did. My 4-year-old then got into the action, ranking his favorite activities, too.

I took it a step further: what was your favorite thing that you ate today? Both kids smiled back at me: meatballs. I couldn't believe it. We were actually having a conversation. A real conversation!

I did it again the next night. They chose spaghetti aglio e olio (which they call "spicy noodles"), so I made them their favorite. They sat down, and I again asked them what their favorite part of the day was.

That's when it happened.

My 6-year-old asked me what MY favorite part of the day was. We went back and forth like that for a while. What was the best thing that you ate? What was the best thing that YOU ate? Who did you play with? Who did YOU play with?

Camp's over now, but my kids actually like talking at dinnertime. They know that dinner is when we talk about our days.

By the third night (chicken cutlets in a corn flake crust), both kids started talking about their days without even being prompted. They knew the drill—favorite part of the day, best thing you ate today, who you played with—and were happy to share.

Camp's over now, but my kids actually like talking at dinnertime. They know that dinner is when we talk about our days. Sure, there are times when they're just too exhausted to speak. Times when I let them bring iPads to the table or even put the TV on for them. But, for the most part, dinner is when we catch up on our days, when we fill each other in on what happened while we were apart.

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Last night, my husband made it home early enough to eat with us. I said to him, "How was work?" We chatted a bit amongst ourselves and then my 6-year-old, who knows that I'm the author of four novels, piped in, asking me, "Mommy, how was writing books all day?"

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