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Round-Robin Mealtime

Structuring the conversation, especially with children at the table, can be a bit tricky sometimes, and that’s where the idea of the Round-Robin Mealtime comes in. Prepare to be amazed at the simplicity of it all.

Raise your hand if your mealtimes look a little something like this: Just as everyone sits down, it starts. Your kindergartner wants to tell you all about a new game he played after Show and Tell, your second grader is bursting to tell you about how she won the class Spelling Bee, and your husband would like to get a word in edgewise about his day. And where does that leave you? Without even a 15 second slot to tell anyone about what you got accomplished, or any accolades you got at work.

Whew! Scenarios like this are not uncommon in today's busy households. With everyone doing so much during the day, sharing these experiences during dinner is a great way to swap news and bond.

Structuring the conversation, especially with children at the table, can be a bit tricky sometimes, and that's where the idea of the Round-Robin Mealtime comes in. Prepare to be amazed at the simplicity of it all.

Instead of everyone clamoring to be heard, introduce the concept of ‘the baton'. The baton could be anything – a salt-shaker, a wooden spoon or, if you're feeling especially whimsical, a magic wand. The rule is that whoever is in possession of the baton has the floor. Equally important is the idea that while someone is speaking everyone else has to listen. No exceptions.

Imagine your 5-year old's glee at getting his turn with the baton. He can enthrall everyone about his day constructing Play-Doh dinosaurs and learning his numbers. He'll be telling the entire family about his day and feel that inner glow that everyone is listening to what he has to say.

There's just one more rule, and that is to set a time limit for holding the baton. Pass the baton to your 13-year old daughter and you'll be sitting at the table all night as she regales the family with every detail of her best friend Tanya's new boyfriend's leather jacket.

Yikes! Conversely, your 6-year old, who is as shy as a bunny when all eyes are on him, might be hard pressed to make it 30 seconds before passing the baton off to someone else. Encourage him to speak up! By setting limits, no one talks too long, or too little. Five minutes should be enough to get all the important stuff in, and a few trivial things too.

You can also try setting a topic for discussion. Asking everyone where the family should go on the next vacation is guaranteed to get a conversation started. Using the Round-Robin technique is a great way to discuss important issues and get everyone's opinion weighed in. You could also talk about what is on the planner for this weekend, or do something fun like playing ‘Getting To Know You'. This is a great game for dinnertime, and works well with the Round-Robin format.

It's not hard to figure out. Someone picks a question, such as "What is your favorite movie, and why?", and everyone goes around answering the question. You can also spice things up by asking about embarrassing moments, what their biggest challenge has been, etc. It's a great way to get everyone talking and laughing during dinner, and using the Round-Robin format will ensure everyone gets to participate.

Round-Robin Mealtimes give everyone a chance to talk and be important, and also teaches the importance of active listening. It's a great way for everyone to be involved in the dinnertime conversation!

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Pat Brill is co-founder of which supports Busy Moms with free gift ideas and helpful tips to meet the challenges of motherhood. She is also co-founder of , a directory of articles covering many areas of wellness. You can reach Pat at

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