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Talking About Thanks and Giving

Conversation starters from the Family Dinner Project to inspire gratitude and connection
large family saying grace around the table before dinner

Brianne DeRosa is the content manager for the Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit initiative coordinated by a multidisciplinary team including executive director and co-founder Anne Fishel, a clinical psychologist and family therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital; and co-founder Lynn Barendsen, a director and researcher at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

At the holidays, it’s more important than ever to remember to set aside time to talk about the concepts of thanks and giving. We often say “let’s give thanks” or “tell what you’re thankful for!” without giving much thought to whether our family members are really feeling thankful — or just going through the motions. We also might encourage gift-giving and receiving without remembering to reinforce what it actually means to have a giving spirit. Talking about thanks and giving can help your family tune in to the real meaning of the season.

Try these collections of conversation starters that we’ve created just for this time of year. From gratitude to generosity, they’re designed to cover all the big topics that are on everyone’s minds right now.

Talk About "Thanks" and "Giving"

Use these conversation starters around your holiday table this season.

  • When is it especially important to say, “thank you”? Do you notice when people thank you, or forget to thank you?
  • How has your understanding of gratitude changed over the years? What did you feel most grateful for when you were younger? And today?
  • If you had superpowers, what would they be and how would you use them to help people?
  • What can you give or do for someone that doesn’t cost any money?
  • Do you know someone who is a giving person? How so? Who is it?

Talk About Giving

Use these conversation starters around the dinner table.

  • How does it make you feel to give to others?
  • Would you rather give or receive a gift? Why?
  • What’s the oddest or funniest gift you’ve ever received?
  • Who is it hardest to give to? Why?
  • If you could give something special to one person, who would you choose and what would you give them?

Talk About Family Recipes

Use these conversation starters around the dinner table at special occasions — holidays or otherwise!

  • Where did this recipe come from?
  • Who do you remember making this recipe for you? Who taught you to make it?
  • When and where did you eat this food growing up?
  • Was this a special occasion food or an everyday food?
  • Why is this food special or meaningful for you and our family?

Five Conversation Starters for a Welcoming Table

  • Tell me something about yourself that you think I may not know.
  • What makes you feel cared for? What is the most caring thing someone has ever done for you?
  • What was your favorite toy or game from your childhood that you hope will be played by the next generation? Why was it special to you?
  • Imagine people are speaking of you 100 years from now. What do you hope they will say?
  • What’s the craziest gift you’ve ever received?

Managing Politics at the Table

Are you worried that your holiday table might be overtaken by arguments about politics? See the Family Dinner Project’s guide to managing political hotspots and keeping the festivities enjoyable — with advice on tactfully turning the topic, managing argumentative relatives, and keeping your own patience in check!

Eat, Laugh, Talk

New from the Family Dinner Project: A cookbook full of recipes, conversation starters, and tools for family connection. Learn more about Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook.

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