5 Thanksgiving Conversation Starters for Your Holiday Dinner

As families across the country gather for Thanksgiving this year there’s bound to be plenty of lively conversation around the dining room table. From family anecdotes endlessly retold to work stories to the latest chapter in a child’s life.

If you’re looking for something a little more substantive to talk about as you pass around the turkey and stuffing, consider making use of these five Thanksgiving conversation starters for your dinner discussions.

What are you grateful for that you wish more people had in their lives?

This starter combines the traditional Thanksgiving theme of gratefulness with the topic of economic inequality. It’s easy to think about one or the other, but when you consider both at the same time, it puts a new perspective on the question of what people have vs. what they need.

It’s also a great way to get kids thinking about ownership and opportunity vs. inequality.  A conversation like this could quickly turn into a giving opportunity as kids think about what they’d want to give to those who don’t have as much as they do.

Describe a time you were surprised to be given something out of kindness.

The focus here shouldn’t be on gifts you expected to receive. This starter is all about someone giving merely because they felt like it. Discussing everyone’s answers will help explore the spirit of the season and what it means to be the sudden recipient of kindness. You can then turn the topic on its head and talk about what it would feel like to give something out of the blue. Do you think the other person would feel the same way you did?

For kids, this can be especially valuable, because it lets them compare two different flavors of the same emotion: joy, in this case. Younger children might not grasp the nuance of such a comparison, but it can give middle schoolers and early adolescents a means to examine their emotions in a new way. Even if they don’t have much to offer, you can still work with them to discover how they can extend their kindness to others.

What was it like to get help when you were in dire need of something?

No one has all the answers, and no one is always fortunate enough to have everything they need. This conversation doesn’t have to be about physical objects, either. While it can certainly be about getting help with money or schoolwork or food, less tangible concepts are also fair game. For instance, what does it mean to get support during a time of loss, after a particularly stressful week at work or school, or when life takes any other unfortunate or unexpected turn?

Through sharing details like these, parents might discover something about their kids that can help them be better caregivers. Kids can see that their parents go through the same kinds of struggles they do and learn that there are plenty of difficulties in life they haven’t experienced yet. Most importantly, the whole family can bond over shared or familiar struggling, regardless of the relational distance from person to person.

Describe a time when you saw the outcomes of giving back to your community.

Supporting a community organization or program is one thing. Seeing how a gift actually affects lives is another. Giving a first-hand account of the impact you helped make provides family and friends with a more tangible sense of what positive change looks like. It might even give them ideas about how they can get out and make a difference, especially if they’re traveling to get back home.

Often, talking about the event can help you make realizations about your place in the community or what kinds of causes mean the most to you. When your kids see that you’re moved by change you helped make, they’ll want to make some too. And if you can get your kids excited about being involved in their community because of a personal story, that could mean a family day of giving back — the kind great stories are made from.

What does it mean today to be in need during the holidays? What about when my parents were young, my grandparents?

This topic is a great way to engage the whole family in thinking about the spirit of the season and what it means for those less fortunate. Grandparents and other elders will probably have a different view than the youngest people at the table, and parents are likely to have a third opinion. The goal here isn’t to reconcile the three. Instead, it’s to find the connections that link the three age groups and land on a cause or desire that everyone should make a more significant part of their lives.

For a fun activity, take the idea everyone settled on and discuss how people can get involved with it. What can parents and grandparents contribute to their community, and how can kids be a part of supporting that initiative? You could turn it around and have the kids come up with something that would help those in need. How could parents and grandparents make that idea a reality?

There are many ways to expand the conversation into a charitable family event, it’s just up to you to make it happen.