When you hold regular family meetings, you establish family values of connection, unity, mutual respect, support, and creative problem-solving.
If weekly meetings are too much, then set aside time to meet every two weeks. As a result of your sustained efforts, you will build a family in which problems are discussed, each person feels heard, and adventures are planned because you made family meetings a high priority.
In my family, I insisted on family meetings even though my daughter often resisted and my husband wasn’t focused on them. Since we followed Michael Popkin’s guideline of giving allowance at the end of the family meeting, my daughter always attended. This incentive, which didn’t involve nagging her, worked well because we didn’t connect her allowance to her behavior. Rather, we used allowance for teaching money management, which was one of the skills we would talk about during our family meetings. Keeping your children engaged in the family meeting process is important. Make sure to discuss pleasant topics along with unpleasant topics so that having a family meeting isn’t simply another name for your children being in trouble.
As a result of nine years of family meetings, I have a treasure trove of handwritten meeting notes that serve as a memoir of our family life. During our meetings, we covered topics such as chores, vacations, time management, TV viewing, school, sports, dance classes, pet care, family purchases, cell phones, boys, party rules, friends, use of allowance, and finally, my daughter getting a restaurant hostess job at age 15. When you insist on family meetings despite the many obstacles life throws your way, you create a family that values and treasures one another.
Below is a framework for starting your own family meetings.
General Guidelines for Effective and Joyful Family Meetings
- Before each meeting, post a sheet of paper in a common area of your home for family members to write down what they want to talk about during the meeting. A family meeting is not a time for parents to tell kids what they’re doing wrong and need to change. It’s a time for family members to encourage each other and work together to meet needs. Kids often resist the family meeting because they think it’s only about telling them they need to change.
- Encourage problem-solving during your meetings. Use the Five-Step Problem-Solving Process as a blueprint for your discussions.
- Talk about positive ideas as well as what needs to change. Plan an outing.
- Make your family meetings fun. Rotate who will come up with a funny joke or activity for each meeting.
- If appropriate, give allowance at the end of the family meeting to encourage participation. You can tell your kids, “You will receive your allowance at the end of the meeting.”
- Keep a log of meeting notes to refer to at each meeting.
- Set a time limit. Whatever doesn’t get addressed within that timeframe is put on the agenda for the next meeting.
- Try to set a consistent day and time for family meetings even though obstacles will arise.
- Tell your family members how important their opinions are.
- Consider having your kids make a talking stick, a Native American tradition, or other item that will be held by the speaker. This visual cue of whose time it is to speak will teach children how to wait until their turn and reduce interruptions.
These roles rotate at each meeting depending on your child’s maturity level. Keep in mind that, hopefully, you will continue your family meetings for years to come, so if your child isn’t ready for a leadership role yet, they will be in the future as they continue to learn from you.
- The chairperson keeps the discussion on track and ensures that everyone’s opinions are heard.
- The secretary takes notes during the meeting. Depending on their interest level and age, the secretary may also write the official minutes after the meeting. In my family, we never wrote minutes, but you may have a child who likes to do so. At the next meeting, the secretary for that meeting reads the previous meeting’s notes to review your past decisions and follow up on how you did.
Family Meeting Agenda
- Compliments: Encourage appreciative statements about one another.
- Minutes: Review minutes from the previous meeting.
- Old business/new business: Address topics not covered during the previous meeting followed by new topics.
- Allowances: If appropriate, give allowances. Allowances are an encouragement to attend family meetings.
- Treat or family activity: End each meeting on a positive note.
Ground Rules for Conducting Problem-Solving Discussions
- Every person has an equal voice.
- Everyone may say what they think and feel about each issue.
- Use only respectful language.
- Decisions are made by consensus, if it is a joint problem to solve.
- All decisions are in effect until the next meeting date or date otherwise specified.
- Some decisions are reserved for parents to make.
These guidelines are suggestions, so change them as needed.
However, keep the family meeting as a time when everyone practices not blocking communication and listening without judgment. That way, each person feels safe and shares. After sharing, teach your children how to disagree without demeaning each other. With gentle reminders, the ability to be open-minded and respectful will grow. Most of all, enjoy the special time you have carved out of your busy schedules to be together as a family.
Based on “How to Hold a Family Council Meeting” from Active Parenting 4th Edition by Michael Popkin. Copyright © Active Parenting Publishers, 2014. Used with permission of the publisher.
©2017 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Family Success Coach since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking and private parenting coaching sessions. She works with parents of 5 – 25 year-old children.
Cynthia’s book, Ally Parenting: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Transform Conflict Into Cooperation, will be published in late April, 2017.
To learn how Cynthia can help you solve your specific challenges, contact Cynthia at bridges2understa.wpstagecoach.com, [email protected], or 650. 679.8138 to have a complementary 45-minute discovery session. Why keep suffering? It’s time to change!