My friends and family know what’s coming when we’re out to dinner and they see a little packet of white squares come out of my purse, held together with a rubber band. It’s a pile of carefully selected Table Topics—little cards printed with questions—usually from the “Family Gatherings” collection. (Though on date night, I like the “Couples” collection.)

I’ve been structuring our family’s conversations for nearly a decade. For a while, I tended to focus the discussion on what everyone is grateful for. But in the last year or so I’ve been partial to those Table Topics, which are sold as “questions to start great conversations.” The questions can be much harder to answer, but in my experience, after all the groaning and eye-rolling dissipates, everyone starts to grab for the cards and we end up laughing and having a good time.

I instigate these conversations for fun, of course, but also because I know that they help my family bond and help my kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves—which, in turn, could make them more resilient, better adjusted, and more successful in school (as I wrote about last week).

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Below are 20 questions that would be good to have your children ask their dad or grandpa on Sunday (even if you are phoning or Skyping someone far away). One tip: See if you can get the dads to weave their answers into a narrative demonstrating that your family members have been through both good and bad times together, but through it all, you’ve stuck together. This is a way of modeling your family’s grit and growth mindset.

The exact content of Dad’s answers isn’t crucial. Research suggests that the most important thing is to make time for conversations like these—and Father’s Day seems like as good a day as any to start!

1. What do you remember about the houses you lived in as a kid? Which one did you like the best?

2. What did you have as a child that kids today don’t have?

3. Has anything ever happened at a family wedding that you’ll never forget?

4. Think of some relatives that have passed away in the last few years. What would they be doing right now if they were with you?

5. Which family member has been your greatest coach in life? How have they coached you? What has made them good at it?

6. When you were a teenager, which family member did you go to for advice? Looking back, was it good advice?

7. What was your favorite movie or book when you were my age?

8. Tell me a story about a family reunion or family party that you remember attending as a child.

9. What was the hardest thing you went through as a child? How did you overcome it?

10. What are your favorite stories that grandpa/grandma told (or still tells)?

11. If you could know anything about our family history or about a relative who has passed away, what would you want to know?

12. What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?

13. What are your best memories of holidays or family gatherings as a child?

14. What three adjectives would your grandparents use to describe you?

15. Did your parents or grandparents ever lose their jobs? What happened? How did they start over?

16. What is the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?

17. How did your parents change after they retired?

18. If you could go back to one day in your childhood, which day would that be? Why?

19. How are you most different from your parents and grandparents? How are you the same?

20. What did your grandparents do with you that you loved? What did they do that you didn’t enjoy so much?

Happy Father’s Day to all those great Dads and Grampa’s out there (especially our own “Dadu”)!

Many of these questions were adapted from the “Family Gathering” edition of Table Topics.

© 2013 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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