Maybe convening a family meeting sounds like as much fun as joining a Polar Bear swim on New Years’ Day, but if you do it right, it can be something everyone actually looks forward to. It also serves as a great way to accomplish a lot of crucial goals for your family:
- It makes rules and expectations clear.
- It gives everyone a voice and lets the kids tell you what they need or are struggling with.
- It avoids surprises
- It helps build a sense of comfort by becoming a reliable landmark among other family routines and rituals , and
- It makes everyone in the family feel they belong and are respected.
For the first meeting, tell everyone you’re going to try something new right after suppertime that night. If you have a weekly routine of doing something together like taking a walk or a playing board game, you can squeeze the meeting in between.
It’s important that the first few meetings should be strictly about showing appreciation for whatever is going well in your family. Acknowledge the kids for anything they have done lately to cooperate, to share, to help out around the house, to get their homework done. Announce whatever might be coming up the following week, especially any change of routine. We often take for granted that kids know when business trips are coming up or visitors are expected – even birthdays can take them by surprise!
Tell them you’ll post an agenda on the fridge that they can add items to. When issues come up during the week, show them how to add them to the agenda. Let them know you’re open to talking about these things and show it with your open-hearted attitude and good listening skills. Finish up with a family game, playtime, movie or whatever you like to do together. It would be a good time for allowance if that’s something you do in your family.
For the next few meetings, begin again by showing appreciation for things that have made your family run smoothly or created a happy atmosphere. After that, focus only on the kids’ concerns. Whoever is chairing the meeting should make sure that nobody gets interrupted, and that you avoid any negative patterns that could derail the meeting.
Make sure that everyone gets a turn to talk. If your family includes someone who can’t help butting in during someone else’s turn, use a talking stick or some other object that gives the holder exclusive rights to speak without interruption. You can lighten the mood of the whole thing by using something funny, like a stuffed animal or a silly statue to call the meeting to order.
When tabling possible solutions to a given problem, suggest a trial period of one week or two. Check in at the end of the trial period and revisit the topic to see if everyone is satisfied with the change.
Don’t include any of the adults’ concerns until your family meetings have become established, and begin gently with things that are not heavily charged with emotion. A family meeting is a great vehicle for reaching agreement about things like chores and allowance, curfews and consequences. Making decisions by reaching a consensus is always a better route than simply taking a vote because everyone buys into the final outcome instead of feeling that they were outvoted.
Wait for an appropriate before bringing up sensitive issues and never include things that are very personal or embarrassing for any individual – those should always be dealt with in private.
Be respectful of everyone’s dignity as well as their feelings. Do your best to make this an opportunity for new ways of connecting with your kids, especially as they move into the teen years.