I have four sons who range from ages fifteen down to three years old, so dinner table conversations can go in many different directions in our house (not to mention that boys—and men—are not always eager to communicate their deepest dreams and ambitions!). 

But I’m working on finding better questions that will help shape these conversations, both at dinnertime and other times throughout the week. I want to suggest three questions that might help you engage with your kids over the table and “while you walk in the way” (see Deuteronomy 6:7).

1. What have you been reading?

This first question assumes that your kids are reading something. If you are not a reading household, I’d encourage you to get reading. Read aloud to your kids often, get books to have on hand (real books, not just Kindles or iPads), make regular trips to the library, and get your family reading—both the Bible and all kinds of other books.

I was once talking to a seminary professor who told me that his sons used to read end-times fiction when they were growing up. Even though he didn’t fully agree with every theological perspective in the books, he told me he didn’t really care that much what his sons were reading, as long as they were reading something (I’m sure there are some limits on this)! All of his sons are now in ministry as pastors and teachers, so he was onto something there. The point is, get your kids reading—both the Bible and other things: fiction, history, cookbooks, or whatever might interest them. But this also assumes that you are reading.

Once everyone starts reading, it can be a fun dinner time practice to have everyone share what they’ve been reading. Maybe it will be a chapter of the Bible. Or a story from a Harry Potter book. Or a recipe for crème brûlée. Whatever it is, reading can lead to all sorts of interesting rabbit trails and conversations. And whether you are talking about a chapter of the Bible or a recipe from a cookbook, you can often find ways to connect these stories with the creativity of God and the overall story of redemption.

2. What are you planning?

My sons are planners—some might say dreamers or schemers. They are often scheming up some plan for the day, week, or months ahead. Sometimes that is building a fort with their cousins. Other times, that means planning out a routine for the summer. Often they’ll daydream about trips in the future to see family or friends (or the new Star Wars world at Disneyland).

Children (and many adults for that matter) like to think about the future. The plans that we make for the future often reveal where our desires are. When I was young, I planned on being the president of the United States. I’m not sure what that says about my desires, but I know it gave my parents and grandparents a kick. And provided some good on-roads for further conversation. Whether you are talking about plans for next week or the next decade, asking your children what they are planning can sometimes open up surprising windows into their hearts and desires. 

3. How are you praying?

Again, this last question assumes that your kids are praying (and that you are praying with your kids). If that is not the case, then I’d encourage some work on that as well. Mark out a time every day to pray with your kids. Use resources like The Valley of Vision or The Book of Common Prayer. Find ways to make prayer a regular rhythm in your house.

As you do this, you’ll be able to start asking your kids about their own prayers. Don’t assume that they are too young to articulate what they want to pray about. Even my three-year-old will express prayer requests. Sometimes they are silly, like prayers for his toys or cartoon characters, but other times he will share genuine desires for God’s help in not being scared at night or in thunderstorms. Our other sons will share prayers for unbelieving friends and family or pass along requests they hear in school or from friends. These requests give us the opportunity to pray with our children while also learning more about what is important to them.

One final caveat: as you ask each of these questions, be ready to answer them yourself as parents. If I can’t tell my kids what I’m reading or planning or praying about, then the questions will backfire. But if I start out sharing my own answers to these questions, their answers can spring from mine, and we can quickly learn from each other around the dinner table, rather than eat as quickly as possible and move on to the latest Netflix show. 

With consistent touch points around the dinner table, you will provide a context where you might be able to learn more about your children’s heart and help them apply the truth of the gospel as they answer these and other questions.

Chris Bruno is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, and teacher who desires to give his life to helping others see the centrality of Jesus in all the Scriptures for the glory of God. He has served at Northland International University, Cedarville University, and Trinity Christian School in Kailua, HI. He has written and co-written several books and is a fellow in the St. John Fellowship of the Center for Pastor Theologians. Chris and his wife Katie have been married since 2001 and have four sons who love to be outdoors playing ball or pretending to be superheroes, all while wrestling their dad.