Help your kids discover their voice (and convictions)


“Here’s what I think …”
It was a night just like any other, which is to say it was another evening of rousing discussion. Soup spoons suspended in midair, quizzical brows, the thumping of a printed-out article on the table. The article in question had been the source of that evening’s discussion. I can’t recall the exact topic of debate, but everybody — everybody! — had an opinion about it.

Once a learning exercise that my husband, Clay, and I encouraged, dinnertime discussions grew to be the heartbeat of the Clarkson table. It seemed dinner had two purposes — to eat and to discuss. When our kids were very young, I would ask each of them to tell Clay the most interesting thing they had learned that day, share where we had gone on a field trip, or talk about what they had done with their friends. Their simple, yet enthusiastic, sentences would tumble over each other as they shared the new facts they’d picked up and adventures they’d encountered. In those days the dinner table was a place to practice manners and the arts of listening and asking. The goal was to honor the extroverts with a listening ear and gift the introverts with the opportunity to be heard.

As they grew older, sometimes Clay would bring a book or article, read or summarize part of it, and then ask their opinions. We made a family policy that no idea was unworthy of our discussion and that no one, regardless of age, would be ridiculed for sharing an opinion. It’s no wonder that Joy grew up to be a debater. Breathing in the oxygen of our table-talk each evening prepared her brain to express her mind and back up her opinions.