Dinner conversation and your toddler

Sitting down at the dinner table together at the end of the day is a great way to unwind and connect – even with members of your family who are still working on their verbal skills. While your budding linguist may not be ready to start regaling you with her opinions on politics and literature just yet, you may be surprised at what she does have to say over dinner. She may have plenty to say on her own, but if she is a little shy starting out, she may need you to get her started now and then. Providing prompts will also help enhance her vocabulary, and encourage her to use her imagination. Here are some ideas for questions you can ask Baby over dinner – just be careful not to take a big bite before she answers. You never know when something she says will have you bursting out laughing.

Open-ended questions are a great way to get a real conversation started. Yes or no questions, on the other hand, or questions that give options for the answer in the question, on the other hand, can put limits on the creativity of the response.

Questions to engage the senses

  • What does it smell like we’re having for dinner?
  • What does your dinner feel like?
  • What does the food taste like?
  • What do you see on your plate?

Questions to reinforce learning

  • What color is the food you’re eating?
  • How many pieces of chicken are on your plate?
  • What are some of the letters in the names of the foods we’re eating?
  • What are some of the shapes on your plate?

Questions to inspire the imagination

  • If you could eat any one food for dinner, what would you choose?
  • What food do you wish you never had to eat?
  • If our pets joined us at the table, what do you think they’d want for dinner?
  • If you could invite any one person to dinner, who would you pick?

Since Baby’s language skills are still developing, you may find her responses don’t always make sense, and that’s okay! The goal is to get her thinking and work on an answer. That goal gives her the chance to sit down with you and learn new things together.

Dinner is also a great time to unplug. Shut the television during meals and disconnect or put away devices like cell phones and laptops to teach your little one that mealtimes are times for engaging with others. While you certainly want to encourage Baby to be involved in dinner conversation, it’s also good for everyone to chime in. By listening to her family members speak about their days, Baby will start to learn about taking turns to speak, being patient while waiting for others, and the rhythms of conversation.

Unlike rushed breakfasts and many lunches, especially if you work and Baby goes to daycare, dinner is a great opportunity to sit together and talk. So, sit down and indulge in your meal, and in the wonder of your toddler. She will benefit from these conversations by learning manners, practicing patience, and realizing her seat is a very important one at the table.

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