Family meetings have been recommended by therapists, parenting experts, relationship educators and other professionals for over three decades. The benefits of family meetings are numerous and long lasting.
Children who participate in family meetings learn valuable life skills, such as planning, organizing, coordinating and others. Likewise, the soft skills (communication, problem solving, moral reasoning and prioritizing) that are modeled are critical to successful relationships in work and family life. Couples and/or families that take the time to sit down together to plan, prepare and discuss their lives are among those with the most successful relationships.
What is a Family Meeting?
A family meeting is a time that is set aside each week for parents and children to sit down together to talk. There is no one reason for implementing family meetings. The main reasons families participate in weekly (or bi-monthly family meetings) is to keep open communication, plan for the upcoming week and engage children in decision-making and problem-solving. Family meetings are also a great way to get consensus on things, offering each person a chance to talk about his/her ideas and views about the topic of discussion.
Here are some common themes for family meetings:
· Developing a list of house rules and consequences – Allowing the kids to be involved in the process of making the rules helps them understand the reason for the rules. Giving kids a chance to discuss fair and reasonable consequences for violating a rule usually reduces their resistance to serve the consequences when they break a rule.
· Planning the family calendar – getting everyone together weekly to list his/her upcoming events/appointments/meetings/games/practice on the family calendar helps with planning and organizing, arranging transportation and communication. When the calendar is posted in one central location, everyone can coordinate their schedules and know at-a-glance where someone is at any given time and when they will return. This is invaluable for busy families with lots of after-school activities that require good communication and coordination.
· Deciding on family trips or outings – gathering everyone together to brainstorm options for the family vacation or weekly dinner and game night is a great way to build cohesion and develop skills in kids. As parents, you set the expectations for how involved your children will be in family life. The family meeting can be a great way to divvy up responsibilities such as research, or more mundane things like chores.
· Clear-the-air communication time – many families allocate a few minutes of their family meeting time to allow anyone who has unresolved feelings from the previous week to talk about it. It is a great way to process hurt feelings to avoid building resentments. This may take some prompting by parents who notice ruffled feathers or scuffles that were not fully explored and discussed.
How to Do Family Meetings
Your family meeting can be as formal or informal as you want. It is helpful to have a general agenda that you follow, meaning that you know ahead of time that you will address certain topics. Much like a committee meeting, you might ask for people to submit their topics to be addressed ahead of time, or at the beginning of the meeting. Perhaps you have the outline of an agenda sketched out and posted on the fridge so people can write in topics they want to address. The agenda might look like this:
Family Meeting Agenda for __________
Follow up from last week
- Follow up from Dad on the cost of tickets to visit NASA on a summer trip
- Update from Suzie about the availability of oceanfront condo for the first week in July
- Plans for weekly dinner and game - Bobby
Plans for the Week
- Fill in calendar with appointments, meetings, etc. for upcoming week – everyone
- Discuss options for keeping the kids’ bathroom clean
- Review chores for the upcoming week
Family Time Plans
- Vote on trip to Florida based on reports from Dad and Suzie
- Discuss alternative plans if the Florida trip isn’t doable
- Assign follow-up tasks PRN
Unresolved Stuff from Last Week
- Discuss any unresolved issues from past week: Karen and Suzie – fight over tv time
· What happened from each person’s perspective
· What went wrong?
· How can it be prevented in the future?
· Talk through feelings using Active Listening and I-Messages
· Make amends or apologies
- Same place, same time
Tips for Successful Family Meetings
· Have ground rules for the meeting and enforce them fairly and consistently – examples for ground rules are: only one person speaks at a time (use a talking stick, ball or other token for the speaker to hold while talking and pass to the next person when they finish speaking), show respect to others even when disagreeing, be on time, stay on topic, turn off cell phones, gaming and music devices (and television), if you have a conflict ask ahead of time if you may be excused from the meeting (this should be a rare exception – see below ‘make it a priority’). Use natural consequences for rule violations, ie. if someone is playing with a cell phone they lose it for a day.
· Make it fun – consider having snacks during the meeting or following the meeting – take turns facilitating the meeting so younger ones have a chance to learn leadership skills.
· Keep it brief and on point – the attention span of children and teens is limited – try to keep the meeting between 30-45 minutes.
· Give everyone a chance to help with planning – get input from everyone about the best time for the meeting.
· Make it a priority – keep the meeting at the same time each week so that everyone learns to place a high value on the importance of the meeting. Try to avoid conflicting times for ball games, etc. If someone has an unexpected conflict, decide on a case-by-case basis if you will permit them to miss the meeting, or re-schedule the meeting for a different time that day. It should be very difficult for someone to miss a meeting and re-scheduling should be avoided if possible – that’s how you make it a priority!
· Be consistent – the meeting should be at the same time each week and follow the same outline so that it is predictable.
· Save the difficult topics for the end of the meeting – this would be resolving any unfinished business between kids, sorting through conflict, etc.
· Learn and teach active listening and I-messages to use in your meetings and other important conversations.
"Family Meeting | The Family Education Center." Family Meetings. The Family Education Center. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.
Fetsch, RJ, and B. Jacobson. "10 Tips for Successful Family Meetings." 10 Tips for Successful Family Meetings. Colorado State Extension. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.