By Pam Gaulin, Contributing writer

When family members are relative strangers, starting a conversation may pose a challenge.

It's easy to talk to relatives who you do not see often if you prepare some questions ahead of time and go in with a game plan.

Keep the focus on positive topics and keep the conversations lighthearted and non-controversial, especially at the dinner table. Save more in-depth or personal conversations for more private settings in a living room or when taking an after-meal walk together.

Use questions as invitations to a conversation, but join in the conversation by adding your own experiences and observances.

Shop Talk

Brush up on some appropriate workplace jokes and humor at One thing you probably have in common with relatives you don't see often is that you all work.

Ask questions related to the nature of the work that your relatives do. If you are unsure of a relative's current employment situation, try not to ask direct questions about their job.

Family Ties

Be the host or hostess of your own conversation. Talk and behave in a warm manner, with plenty of head nodding and an open ear. Be a gracious host to the conversation by encouraging further conversation at a more in-depth level. Ask related questions that cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no" answer. Offer your own similar experiences to form a connection with the relative you may not see often.

Small Talk: Questions For Kids

Children who are preschoolers or toddlers are an entertaining group. Ask questions about their favorite animals, their favorite foods or their favorite season and holiday.

Try not to ask kids if they like school. Instead, ask kids what is their favorite part of school. Continue the conversation by asking kids if they have any favorite subjects in school.

For tweens and teens, engage them in conversations about the latest video games, books, gadgets and movies.

The Out of Towners

Do a little research about the states or cities where your relatives live. Ask adult relatives about the favorite places in their area, and where they might recommend a visitor go.

It's all Relative: Questions For Parents

Relatives that are parents are easy to talk to at family gatherings. Asking questions about the children's activities in sports or school will start the conversation rolling.

Something to Talk About: Questions For Grandparents

Grandparents, great uncles and great aunts offer a wealth of entertainment and family history when given the chance to share. Ask older relatives about their favorite holiday memories as children, or what they were most grateful for as children.

Family Ties: Questions For Your Peers

You may relate to relatives who are within 10 years of your age by asking them about recent home purchases or sales or improvement projects. Asking about previous or upcoming vacations can also open the conversation to a host of entertaining stories.