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“If children are to develop into effective people, the process must begin when they are small.

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

Communication Is a Learned Skill

So knew Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who brought up a generation of statesmen. True, the Kennedy scenario was a tragic disappointment on many fronts, but doubtlessly the family had outstanding qualities that, if sanctified, could have edified the nation.

The book Times to Remember by Rose Kennedy reveals a woman of admirable traits, who instilled much good in her family, and strived to bring out the best in each of her children. Rose spoke several languages, was well read, informed, and cultured.

For her, dinner time was the ultimate quality time with her children, and she made it a priority to take advantage of this hour together.

Rose’s father, once the mayor of Boston, had the curious habit of pinning news clippings to his lapel and commenting on them. As a young girl Rose benefited from the talks these clippings generated.

The Message Board

When raising her family, she came up with a similar idea. On a convenient wall she hung a message board on which she pinned news clippings. The children were required to read, or at least “scan” one or two clippings and be ready to comment at the dinner table.

Though the clippings encouraged deep discussions, Rose was careful to ensure that meals did not become dry “mental drill sessions”1 but retained the natural pep of a family gathering. As she raised questions, prodded, discussed, debated, and laughed with her children, she also kept a vigilant eye on the louder ones that they did not hush the quieter ones. The children not only learned to express ideas but to listenthe “secret of secrets” of good conversation. Rose made mealtime a stimulating gameshe was the “coach” and all were expected to play as a team.

Given the different age brackets in her large family, Rose sat the tiny ones at a small table (my own mother’s practice as well) so that they could enjoy their prattle and not disturb the older ones.

As they grew, they graduated to the larger table. At home, this “graduation” was something to look forward to.

How-To’s, Benefits and Updates

Today good news is scarce. So such a message board would need to include clips from other life venues: nature stories, positive clips from books or magazines, church bulletins, stories of saints and heroes, excerpts from sermons, Bible quotes, famous quotes, Catechism passages, info on gardening, cooking, art and music, snippets on countries and languagesor whatever the specific interest of each family.

With a trendy range of message boards out there, this can be made a fascinating corner of the home, a project involving one and all.

The idea is to get the children to “converse”, not just jabber or retreat into isolation. Quoting from Mrs. Kennedy in Times to Remember: “[children]…can’t just, suddenly as teenagers, bloom into remarkable conversationalists or speakers, or suddenly acquire the mental quickness, emotional poise or knowledge needed.”2 She adds that ease in conversation and social confidence don’t happen without preparation and effort, and this preparation should begin as early as the age of five.

In fact, with the disappearance of the dinner table, social confidence has suffered. Today, many lack social confidence and struggle with phobias, not knowing how to act or what to say in company. Whole books and courses have been written on the subject.

Electronic Gadgets

An “updating note” is that social savvy can be largely impaired by the electronic gadgetry scenario.

Beginning with TV, the electronic world invites minds to “roam” rather than think analytically and, in a way, the electronic device does the “thinking” for the viewer. But now, with small electronics at our fingertips, a new addiction is at play providing a very incomplete means of human communication which does little to satisfy our human social need.

While small electronics have their use, in the deeper, interpersonal sense, these gadgets can hamper thinking processes and communication skills. Comments, articles, videos, posts and cartoons abound on the subject.

So a must near the message board is a basketif neededwhere all electronic gadgets can be deposited before dinner. No cellphones, iPads, iPods at the family table; but that is one thing Rose Kennedy did not have to contend with.

Unfortunately, the Kennedys veered off the path of faith and morality, and ultimately were not a shining example to America. But no one can deny that they could navigate socially, were fascinating communicators, and even lead brilliantly at times.

It all started at the dinner table.

Written and Illustrated by A.F. Phillips


  1. Times to Remember, by Rose F. Kennedy, pgs.106, 107 (Back to article)
  2. Ibid. (Back to article)

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