Family Meetings:Your One-Stop Solution For Discipline AND Fun
If you’ve ever had a job, you’ve probably attended a meeting. And although it may seem somewhat unusual to apply this same strategy to “running” your family, family meetings are a great tool for encouraging your kids, managing parenting challenges and discipline, and solving conflict among family members.
Here are the nuts and bolts of holding a family meeting: it’s important to hold them at a regular time and on a regular day, once a week. Everyone needs to know that these meetings will take place, with or without them, at the usual time. Keep the meetings short, say 20 minutes or so, especially at the beginning, because you want everyone to come to the meetings willingly instead of dragging themselves resentfully.
How young is too young for a family meeting? Many parenting experts will say that when your kids are around age three or four is a good time to start, but others will say that as long as the kids are verbal, they should be welcome to join. Very young children won’t be able to participate the way that older kids can, that’s for sure, but giving them the opportunity to join in the meeting, even if they sit at the table and colour while it’s being held, sends an affirming message about their importance in the family.
When you begin holding family meetings, start each one by acknowledging each other for the ways that members were useful and helpful within the family. You might tell your child, “When I was on the phone this morning and you wanted to talk with me, you waited until I was done, and that was a big help. I really appreciate your patience.” Whatever behaviour we notice and reinforce (positively or negatively) is going to be the behaviour that our kids repeat, so this is a good way to encourage their positive behaviours.
You’ll also want to use these meetings to decide on some fun family activities that you can all do together. In fact, for the first month or more of regular family meetings, you might want to only focus on acknowledgements and family fun. It’s a nice way to set up the meetings as a place to build family togetherness and connection. Brainstorm some ideas of fun things that everyone would like to do, and then narrow it down to a single activity for that week and plan it out. (Looking for some inspiration to get started? Check out this article on Holiday Fun With The Family for ideas.) And then you can round out your family meeting with a special treat, like a favourite dessert or a family movie or board game night.
As your family meetings evolve, they can become places to discuss those tricky family challenges, like chores and homework and laundry and picking up after yourselves… Address the concerns with a spirit of cooperation and an eye toward solutions (rather than blaming or arguing), and the family meeting can become a great tool for avoiding blow-outs and door slamming during the week.
Decisions that are made in the family meeting are reached by consensus and are abided by all family members, regardless of whether or not they attended the meeting in which the decision was made. I would suggest that the agreement be that all solutions are implemented for one week, then are put back on the agenda for the following meeting so that you can check in and determine their effectiveness. It’s also easier to get buy-in from kids when they know that they only have to do something for one week before they have the opportunity to put forward new ideas and try something different.
And it’s a good idea to end your meeting with a review of the family’s upcoming week. With soccer and Guides and gymnastics and band rehearsals and everything else your family is involved in, this is a great time, with everyone sitting down together, to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks during the time between meetings.
The key to these meetings to create an atmosphere of cooperation and discussion, where everyone – regardless of their age or their concern – can be heard and have their issues taken seriously. Soon a new year will get going, a great time to turn over a new leaf and resolve to put the power struggles and fighting behind you as a family.
For more detailed ideas on how to run family meetings, I recommend the books Breaking The Good Mom Myth by Alyson Schafer and Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen.