Mom Tip Monday: Family Meetings

by Heligirl on November 29, 2010

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles,Parenting Tidbits,Positive Discipline

We have meetings at work, meetings with friends, and meetings for volunteer and fun organizations. Why don’t we all do the same with our families?

Family meetings, a powerful positive discipline strategy, provide multiple benefits for kids and parents alike in today’s hectic world. It’s especially valuable as the kids get older with full schedules of their own.

By holding weekly family meetings (which you don’t have to call “family meetings” by the way), you bring together your family to talk, share any issues, plan for the week, share concerns and participate in decisions. Family meetings offer kids the opportunity to be a productive member of the family. Through these gatherings they feel capable, respected and heard. They’ll also learn valuable communication, cooperation, teamwork and negotiation skills that will stick with them throughout the rest of their lives. As a bonus, family meetings are a wonderful way to check in with each other, share feelings about issues and connect.

There are no set rules when it comes to having family meetings, but I highly recommend making them an active part of the week. If they’re used productively, you can use them to address several discipline issues that arise in addition to fun items. In fact, I recommend each week include something fun to discuss in addition to any issues that need serious focus. Of course, how a family meeting is run and its level of productivity will depend on the ages of the kids. Preschoolers aren’t expected to really participate much, but having short meetings when they’re that age lays the groundwork for a time when they can participate.

Here are some suggestions to get you started, but really you make the rules:

1.    Choose a day of the week and stick to it. Work with everyone’s schedule and choose a time that works for everyone. It could be any day, any time. The only requirement is everyone is there.

2.    Make it a family day or evening. Plan to have a meal together then have the meeting. And/or after the meeting, do something fun together such as game night, a walk around the neighborhood (great summertime activity), family outing to the zoo/aquarium/or the occasional movie night. It could even be an agenda item to choose the after meeting activity together.

3.    Post an agenda. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or even type written. You could simply post a blank piece of notebook paper to the fridge and as issues arise during the week they can be written down so they’re not forgotten by the family meeting. This is a great way to save making decisions on tough issues until the whole family can participate in the discussion. Remember, anything you want the whole family to chat about is fair game for an agenda item.

4.    Rotate the chair position. A different family member chairs the meeting every week and a different family member takes the minutes (simple notes of the decisions made). This does depend on age, but is a great way to get the kids involved and feeling they’re an important part of the meeting.

5.    Keep a notebook with the agenda and minutes of each meeting. This way you can always go back and visit decisions made (a powerful tool for following up with a child who participated in determining a logical consequence, for instance). It’s also a lot of fun over the years to look back at topics of past meetings.

6.    Everyone gets to speak and be heard with respect. For family meetings to work properly, there has to be an air of openness, respect and understanding. Everyone must feel they can share their concerns openly without criticism. This includes the person speaking. If this becomes an issue, you might consider creating a list of meeting rules that include: everyone gets to speak, everyone speaks with respect, no name calling or no accusations.

7.    Set the tone with a positive start. One great suggestion Jane Nelson offers in her book Positive Discipline A-Z is to start every meeting with a heartfelt compliment or observation of another family member. It has to be natural though. If everyone feels forced to say something nice about each other, it won’t be genuine. It can be as simple as thanking your son for washing the dishes, or your daughter for cleaning up after she finished playing. This is simply about noticing something nice or sharing your appreciation for another and sets a positive vibe for the meeting.

8.    Don’t be afraid to tackle the tough stuff. While it’s fun to discuss our Christmas wishes, where we’ll go on vacation this summer, what weekend we’re going to see the grandparents out of town, setting a date for a sleepover, planning a birthday party, etc., you should also focus on the tough stuff like setting curfews, choosing and voting on a consequence when siblings hit or hurt each other, choosing TV/video game limits or having a debrief of that scene your child had in her favorite store last Tuesday when you didn’t cave and buy her the object of her immediate affection.

9.   Have fun. Family meetings shouldn’t feel like a chore. Always remember the deep meaning and reason for them is to offer each family member the opportunity to be an active and equal part of discussions and decisions, as well as help the kids develop a sense of belonging, significance and importance in the family. By running your family meetings in ways that include fun things as well as the tough stuff, you’ll help keep your family strong, empowered and capable.


Rhona Berens, PhD, CPCC November 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I think this is also a great idea for parents whose kids are too young to participate in family meetings; meaning, instead of grabbing a few minutes here and there to discuss co-parenting issues, or catch each other up on what’s new, exciting, and not-so-exciting with our children, how about weekly parent-meetings to connect with each other as spouses, check in on co-parenting, figure out game-plans if needed for the following week/s, etc.?

Twitter: Heligirl
November 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with you Rhona. Thanks so much for bringing that up. I think it is an excellent way to get into the habit of having these meetings too.

Melissa {adventuroo} December 1, 2010 at 7:46 am

That’s a good point Rhona… and a great tip Jen! My guys are too young to get it BUT we do have dinner every night as a family. I’d like to turn one night into more of a meeting and see how it goes!
Melissa {adventuroo} recently posted: Wordful Wednesday- Working with Leslie Nielsen

Clive Rich November 29, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I liked this piece. As with any negotiation, it’s important to prepare. This is one extra responsibility that parents probably have to make meetings like this a success. Failure to prepare normally means preparing to fail in a negotiation so parents should probably think in advance how they want to tackle each issue and what the various members of the family need from the outcome. Could easily imagine the scene in the store when the child didn’t get what it wanted! Kids between 5 and 8 are to a certain extent the world’s best negotiators because they are so uninhibited about asking for what they want. Need to remember though that they are driven solely by incentives and pressures at that age, so don’t expect too much by way of reasoned argument at the family meeting!

Twitter: Heligirl
November 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Thanks Clive. You make a great point. I see too many people show up at meetings at work unprepared and the consequences of that lack of preparation. Being ready with your concerns, but also being prepared to hear each other out, is truly the key to success in negotiations. Yes, you can’t expect board level discussions with the little ones, but what they’ll learn in practicing how to share their thoughts and concerns is going to take them far. What better, safer place to practice and learn this than at home with your family.

Making It Work Mom November 29, 2010 at 7:33 pm

We absolutely have to work Family Meetings into our schedule. I think it is so important for everyone in the family to have an opportunity to communicate and air differences and disappointments and share in triumphs. I think that will be my New Years Resolution!

Twitter: Heligirl
November 30, 2010 at 4:03 pm

That’s so cool! Please let me know how they’re going for you once they start. I anticipate the real payoff is going to be when the kids get into their tweens and teens, when it’s really important to keep them communicating with us.

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