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Exclusive: Anna Williamson's genius tips to get kids to open up amid 'chaotic' family dinners

The counsellor and Celebs Go Dating expert is a mother to two little ones Enzo and Eleanora  

Anna holding her placemat with HelloFresh
Katie Daly
Lifestyle Writer
5 March 2024
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Building strong communication between a parent and a child is so important. It is what so many parents work hard to establish with their little ones from a young age and it is no different for Celebs Go Dating dating agent and family psychotherapist Anna Williamson.

The TV presenter and life coach, 42, has shared her tips with some of the UK's best-loved reality stars on the Celebs Go Dating couch alongside co-coach and friend Paul Carrick Brunson and now she is turning her attention to a matter close to her heart in a new campaign with HelloFresh - getting kids talking at the dinner table. 

Anna with paul carrick brunson and tara Suwinyattichaiporn© Instagram
Anna is a busy mum as she balances family life with her work on Celebs Go Dating

Although it is a seemingly simple concept and something many do without thinking, with the rise in numbers of children racking up the screen time at the dinner table, Anna's work is more important than ever. Anna chatted exclusively with HELLO! about the dinner table culture in her house, and shares her conversation starters to develop those all-important lines of communication between parents and their little ones.

Anna's campaign

"The What’s On Your Plate campaign is all about getting kids talking at mealtimes," Anna tells us. "We know how difficult it can be to get kids to open up about what’s going on in their lives and this can often leave parents feeling disconnected and out of the loop with their kids' thoughts, feelings and dreams. 

Anna holding her placemat with HelloFresh© HelloFresh
Anna is partnering with HelloFresh

"I know first-hand how difficult it can be to get kids talking and just how fundamental it is to maintaining a happy and healthy family home," she continues.

 "Kids are constantly developing new thoughts, opinions, perspectives, fears, and feelings and as caregivers, we need to keep asking questions to start important conversations. Using these questions as topics and convo starters, you’ll help your child to understand themselves and the world around them, teach resilience, enhance gratitude, develop empathy, confidence, and nurture ambition."

Anna Williamson's top tips for getting kids talking

  1. Create the right environment - "Environment is key when opening up topics of conversation and getting to know your children and what's going on in their world, and the perfect place for chats is around the dinner table."
  2. Get the  whole family involved - "My family hold a strong value that a 'family who eats together stays together', and believe in the importance of teaching our children table manners, the art of conversation, and an opportunity to share and learn information from each other, whilst enjoying the same delicious food."
  3. Make conversation fun - "Asking your children well-framed interesting questions can help them share what's going on in their world, supports them in sharing  and naming their feelings and emotions, and gives them the opportunity to literally bring anything to the table."

She says that working with HelloFresh means having access to delicious recipes to get the whole family together at dinner time. She has created a placemat with the popular meal subscription service with prompts to assist parents.

Anna's prompts for family mealtimes© HelloFresh
Anna has created prompts for family mealtimes

Anna draws from experience

Anna's prompts have been built from not only her expertise as a children's counsellor but also as a busy mum herself. The star shares two children Enzo, seven, and Eleanora, four, with her husband of nine years Alex Di Pasquale. 

Anna on walk with husband and two kids© Instagram
Anna is a children's counsellor

"The placemat is based on exactly what I do and talk about with my own children, as well as what I encourage other families to do," she explains. "Key topics around friendships, worries, feelings, goals….it’s a useful and effective tool to help your children open up and articulate what they might be holding in."

Anna's placemat to get kids talking© HelloFresh
Anna has created a placemat to get kids talking

She adds: "Food i.e. eating a meal serves as the perfect accompaniment to a light-hearted chat as it feels less intense and more relaxed - which is often when children most secure to say what’s really on their mind.  I find this really effective with my children when I want to check in with them about their day or week, to give them an opportunity to reflect on the key areas of their lives without them really knowing it - all wrapped up in a lighthearted chat/game/activity."

Anna with her husband skiing© Instagram
Anna uses mealtimes to wind down and create open communication with her family

Mealtimes at Anna's house

Anna lets us in on what meal times look like in her house and it is refreshingly relatable. "[It's] chaotic at times!" she admits. "I know only too well how hard it can be to get everyone sitting around a table, device-free, enjoying a home-cooked nutritious meal. 

Anna in split image with her kids© Instagram
Anna is a doting mother of two

"Two working parents and two busy little humans with school and clubs, there’s a lot to juggle," she confesses. "But this is why it’s even more important to make the time, prioritise meal times with the family, using the time to connect, talk, share and eat food that everyone enjoys."

Anna with her daughter behind her© Instagram
Anna uses mealtimes to chat with her kids

Anna says that even the pickiest of little eaters, hers included, can enjoy this time eating "mindfully" as she puts it which cannot be underestimated in terms of a child's emotional development. "It’s everything!" Anna tells us. "In all the years I’ve counselled children the one thing that has always struck me is how many times a young person has said they’d prefer time with their parent over anything else.  

Anna with baby Eleanora© Instagram
Anna is mother to little Eleanora

"I get parents are busy, I am too, but never underestimate how important actively listening and communicating with your child regularly is," she explains. "They have complicated thoughts, feelings and emotions bubbling all the time, and it’s vital for kids' well-being to have a trusted safe environment and caregiver to share all that with.  

Anna's kids on scooter© Instagram
Anna tells us why getting kids talking is important

She goes on to say, "Structured mealtimes too are so important and offer this double whammy gift of an opportunity to eat good food at a table whilst feeling completely focused on by their parents."

Why getting kids talking over a meal is important

Anna says that she can personally attest to the importance of chatting over a meal of an evening. "I find eating dinner at the table with my family so cathartic," the dating agent explains. "It’s the anchor to my day…I grew up with a family who values mealtimes together, as we still do each week - my parents, brothers, partners, in-laws - it’s something that unites and offers safety, security and a place to process the day and decompress."

Anna's children on walk© Instagram
Anna shares her parenting tips for open communcation

With creating this safe space comes a point at which parents and children have to relinquish screen time. "Boundaries on screen time should be set and mealtimes/at the table should be a device-free place," the mum-of-two says. 

"Being connected 24/7 isn’t healthy, but face-to-face communication, tasting and eating mindfully the food in front of you, is. We need to have structure and boundaries in place on when tech is appropriate and when it’s not, mealtimes are a hard no for me. Children model their parents' behaviour so we need to set an example that mealtimes are a place for eating, chatting, communicating and sharing together."

Anna with Enzo eating cupcake© Instagram
Anna is mother to little Enzo

How to get kids talking

A trick to help children feel involved at mealtimes is to get them cooking. "Both of my kids love helping me cook and I think it’s such an important life skill to teach our kids from any age," Anna tells us, revealing that a firm favourite in her household is Thai green curry. They literally find the ingredient [from the HelloFresh box], whack it in the pan and I do the cooking bit.  It’s such a great way to get them excited and curious about cooking and foods they might not otherwise choose."

Anna smiling with Luisa Zissman© Instagram
Anna gains parenting support from her friend and Luanna co-host Luisa Zissman

Creating these open lines of communication is of equal importance between parents and their tweens or teenagers who can become reluctant to open up as they get older. Anna provides her personal advice: "Choose a time when they are most receptive to you and a chat.  Don’t challenge them when they’re tired and distracted, perhaps wait until you’re having dinner or in the car together.

"But also let them know your door (and ears) is always open, and you’re there to listen anytime without judgment. Your child/teen will feel more comfortable coming to you with a problem or worry if they know they can trust in your reaction."

Anna with her fellow Celebs Go Dating agent Paul Carrick Brunson© Instagram
Anna shares parenting tips with her fellow Celebs Go Dating agent Paul Carrick Brunson

The support of friends in navigating parenting dilemmas

As a parent, you aren't expected to get it right all the time, but chatting with friends who are also raising a young family is another important line of communication. Anna can rely upon her own friends former Apprentice and Big Brother star Luisa Zissman and Married At First Sight expert Paul Carrick Brunson for support. 

View post on Instagram

"Paul and Luisa are amazing parents and so tuned into their kids," Anna reveals. "We all parent in fairly similar ways actually…big on the love and promoting independence in our kids, and having good communication. It’s cathartic to share parenting experiences, highs and lows with my friends so you feel less alone when the tricky bits hit - sleep deprivation and tantrums!".

DISCOVER: I wish I'd known how much my relationship would change after having a baby 

The conversation tool is available to view and download from the HelloFresh website now, with a range of family-friendly recipes from Stacey Solomon available to purchase with prices starting at £3.15pp.o

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