Family Meetings - Benefits and How To
If I'm listing my top parenting tools - family meetings would definitely be at the top. They incorporate all my favorite parenting qualities: connection, play, solution - based thinking. AND it teaches my kids valuable life skills - how to "argue" your point in a respectful way, how to listen to others, how to find a solution that works for multiple people, how to give a compliment. It also provides a sense of love and belonging within our family, and shows that we're available to listen and work together on any topic!
What is a family meeting?
I learned about family meetings as a Positive Discipline tool, and follow the basic format described by Jane Nelsen. We've tweaked it to fit our family, and we're constantly re-evaluating and making changes as our children get older, and we figure out what works best for us.
We have family meetings 1 day a week during dinner time. Some people suggest having a separate time, but for us talking during dinner has allowed us to be more consistent and helped keep our kids at the dinner table a little longer. Setting a timer can help for anyone who is hesitant about the time it will take, for younger kids who have a hard time focusing, or for reluctant teens. You can start with 10-15 minutes and work your way up to 30 minutes max.
Here are the components we've adopted:
Evaluate last week
Brainstorming for Solutions
Family fun activity and calendar review
The hardest part is getting started. It can feel overwhelming, and often parents give up because their kids aren't sitting and participating or complain when you say it's time for your family meeting.
Knowing the possible pitfalls to watch out for can help set you up for success from the start. Here's the top problems I've seen:
- There wasn't enough time spent teaching each component
- The meetings are taking too long
- The "fun" parts are getting skipped (compliments, planning a fun family activity) and too much time spent on the problem solving portion
- The parents use the problem solving portion as an opportunity to lecture instead of work together on a solution
Using this knowledge I suggest easing in by introducing the idea to your family as a way to work together on any problems that come up, and plan fun activities to do together. Then spend each week focusing on one component of the meeting before putting it all together.
This is my favorite part of the meeting. One person starts and goes around the table giving each person a compliment for something they've noticed about that person or say thank you for something they've done for them specifically. You can use these statement starters as a guide:
(Name), I want to thank you for _____________________. OR
I want to compliment (name) for _____________________.
These can be super simple things like "I want to thank Dad for playing my favorite song in the car." Or "I want to compliment ______________ for how hard he worked to learn his sight words this week".
When you're getting started it can be helpful to point things out during the week that could be compliments during the family meeting. So if you see one kid share something with another you can whisper to them, "That would be a great thing to thank them for at the next family meeting".
The first few meetings it took awhile for us to get through this portion, but we've gotten really fast now and I love hearing what my kids come up with!
- If a child isn't verbal yet you can still include them. My husband and I would "give" the compliment for them. For example, "(child) wants to thank you for making silly faces and making her laugh this morning"
- No one is allowed to skip giving a compliment to anyone else. This is established right from the beginning, that even if you're not super happy with someone you can still come up with something to either thank them for, or a positive quality they have. If they're struggling I give some examples, "you could thank them for helping you clean up the playroom yesterday or tell them what a great job they're doing riding their two wheel bike".
Evaluate last week
This one doesn't need to happen until you start solving problems. But this is the accountability portion and "check-in" to see if what you chose is working. So if you made a new plan for who was going to complete certain chores, or came up with a game plan for how two siblings were going to share a new toy, this is where you would check in and see how the plan was working. If all is well then you can move on, but if it hasn't been working you can tweak the plan or start over and try again.
Knowing that there will be accountability helps everyone stick to their promises, and teaches positive lessons about following through, and the ability to change course when things aren't working.
Brainstorming for Solutions
This is the portion where any problems are brought to the group. Anyone is allowed to add a problem to the agenda. All problems are presented without blame, as a problem that everyone can have a say in helping solve. The problem does not have to be a "family problem" it can be a problem the child is having at school, or a parent asking for help with deciding a birthday gift for a particular friend.
State the problem
Ask for hep
Everyone offers ideas (ALL ideas are accepted and it can be fun to throw in some ridiculous ideas to keep the mood fun and light)
Pick an idea to try as a whole family. It's best to come to a consensus instead of voting. If you can't decide, you can always table it for the next week, or decide to try one solution for one week and a different solution the following week.
Items should be taken on a first come, first served basis - unless the entire family agrees that a problem takes priority. If this is taking awhile it's okay to pause and resume at the next meeting.
Family Fun Activities & Calendar Review
We close the family meeting by planning something fun for the upcoming week. This can be a family board game, a walk around the neighborhood, or a fun activity for the following weekend. We also do a quick update on calendars and let our kids know if there are any nights one of us won't be home for dinner and bedtime, or they have any activities that week.
It can be fun to end the meeting with a fun family motto or a family hug or high - five. Anything that helps signify any end to the meeting and solidifies that connection.
A few other things....
Another great benefit to family meetings is they offer a tool in the moment when your child is upset about something but you don't have time to problem solve right then. Instead you can ask, "Do you want to talk about this at our next family meeting?" As long as you are consistent in actually talking about it at the next meeting, your child will begin to feel heard and validated by just adding it to the agenda in the moment, knowing it will be resolved soon.
For a little while we had a family meeting notebook where I would record agenda items and solutions. But this didn't work well for us since it wouldn't always be around when I needed to add something to the agenda, and I found it distracting to take notes during the meeting. Instead I've created a "family meetings" note on my phone and I add any items that come up there. Then if anything needs to be written down during the meeting, I usually record it in my planner on the appropriate date. But you can do whatever works best for your family!
We've called a few "emergency meetings" at times where things have just not been going well. Either with a lot of fighting between members, or a couple terrible night's sleep. There are no strict rules so tweak it to meet your needs!
Family meetings are also a great time to plan family vacations, determine who will do which chores, pay any "allowance" that kids receive, plan meals for the week, and discuss important family values.
I hope you'll give family meetings a try and let me know what you think!