With the hectic pace of life today for both parents and children, families rarely take time to sit down as a group to make deliberate decisions about how the family will function. As a result, plans are often made quickly and dictatorially by the parents without sufficient thought and without consulting other household members.
Holding meetings with the whole family is a great way to include everyone in the decision-making process. In thinking about such meetings, most people envision situations involving stress, problems, discipline, and struggles. These issues can certainly be addressed, but these gatherings can also be used as a vehicle for families to make decisions about how to spend time together as well as to prevent problems from occurring.
For example, as summer approaches, the routines of the school year dissolve and families often have to make many decisions to accommodate the decreased structure in children’s lives. What should children do all day, every day? What kinds of family activities will be planned? Will the older children get jobs? The list could go on and on.
Setting a Positive Tone
If you have not held family meetings in the past, introducing them at a time when you are not trying to address a problem will be easier; everyone will be more relaxed and your children are likely to be more enthusiastic about participating. Then in the future when you do need to resolve a problem, a family meeting will be a familiar format.
No matter what issues you are dealing with, you will use the same basic principles for holding a family meeting. The most important thing to remember is that respect is the cornerstone of effective and productive meetings. Listen to everyone and encourage one another. When children are treated like important members of the family whose ideas are appreciated, they feel capable of helping to resolve an issue. They feel good about themselves, and their relationship with you can be strengthened.
If you hold family meetings on a regular basis, your role initially will be to provide non-judgmental leadership. Over time you may decide to rotate control. Invite everyone in your family who is concerned about or affected by a particular issue to voice an opinion.
To add to a constructive atmosphere, you can:
- include refreshments.
- use an opening activity that highlights positive family events or achievements or affirms individual family members, such as:
- “One thing I like about our family is . . .”
- “One good thing I did today was . . .”
- set an agenda so that everyone knows what will be discussed.
- establish ground rules, such as:
- no interruptions
- no put downs
- everyone is listened to
- respect one another’s opinions
- everyone has a chance to contribute
How To’s of Family Meetings
If the purpose of the meeting is to discuss a specific problem, it is helpful to use the following prescribed steps:
- Decide who is involved. Tell them which issue you would like to discuss and why.
- Keep the family meeting short – with young children, the meeting should be no longer than 15 minutes.
- Have each person state his perspective about the situation without interruption and without judgment. Go around the table, and allow each person the opportunity to speak. If one person, even a parent, tends to monopolize the discussion, you can set a pre-determined time limit for each speaker.
- Ask each person for suggestions to address the issue or solve the problem, again with no interruptions.
- Write down the suggestions. Discuss the proposals and consider their feasibility. Select solutions that seem fair and reasonable to everyone. If consensus is not reached, this may be an opportunity to teach the skills of compromise and negotiation.
- Develop a plan of action; make a list of who will do what and when. You can even have everyone sign the agreement to give a sense of importance to the process and then post it as a reminder.
At the end of the session, set a date for a follow-up meeting to evaluate how your plan is working. During this check-in time, create a positive perspective by recognizing progress even if adjustments need to be made.
The Good News
Family meetings can help you, your children, and your co-parent to become closer and to communicate more clearly. By being involved in group decision-making and problem-solving, children see themselves as having responsibility for creating a good home life and they are more likely to feel like an important part of their family. Engaging in this process sends a message that spending time together and respecting one another are priorities in your household.
The skills children learn in family meetings, such as compromise, cooperation, and openness to other people’s ideas, will help them to communicate effectively in other aspects of their lives. Even though you as the parent will set the limits of what is acceptable, everyone can have input. Children learn to examine situations, propose solutions, and evaluate results with guidance, support, and modeling from you and older siblings. As children begin to see themselves as capable of finding solutions to problems, they will approach other situations with a similar resilient mindset.
By instituting regular meetings in your home, you can strengthen your family as a unit and your children as individuals!By Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Educator
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