The Family Meeting
Strengthening the family bond can prove to be challenging even for the most dedicated parents. One of the best tools to achieve this goal is holding a Weekly Family Meeting. In my years of practice this has proven to be one of the most effective and bonding things families can do to create greater harmony and experience more depth and connection with those they love.
The goals of the Weekly Family Meeting are to help you communicate better, bring everyone closer together and to have some fun. The support and understanding that come from these gatherings creates more love and harmony. Here are some simple guidelines to help you get started. Remember that all families are different and not every step is exactly right for yours, so be creative and add to these guidelines when necessary.
Why have a family meeting?
- allows everyone to talk about problems before they reach a crisis.
- help siblings handle disagreements and learn a variety of skills, such as how to negotiate, compromise, and argue in a constructive way.
- brothers and sisters can learn to appreciate one another’s perspective and to ascertain their own worth.
- Parents who moderate a family meeting can teach siblings how to control aggressive impulses as well as inappropriate behavior.
The goal of family meetings
The goal of a family meeting is to give everyone a voice in family-related matters, as well as to set goals for the family and help plan changes in the family rules and routines.
Family meetings can be used for problem solving and also for planning family activities, such as a trip or a vacation, or a garage sale where all the kids will make money from the sale of unwanted items.
Meetings are meant to build and support the family as a whole as well as each individual child. Family meetings give all siblings an opportunity to be heard and have their opinions respected-a good way to boost each child’s self-esteem. Family meetings also help open lines of communication and allow siblings to solve problems in a group-a great skill for brothers and sisters as they age.
You may discover, through family meetings, that your family has been operating under unwritten rules, such as gender rules (boys favored over girls or vice versa), favorite rules (one child favored over another) or rules that imply that kids need to compete for the parents’ love. These rules are always silent but can be deadly. Through family meetings, such unwritten rules can be brought to light.
A family meeting gives children a safe forum in which to express their feelings about treatment that they consider unfair. By making previously unstated rules explicit, undercurrents of rivalry and resentment can be eliminated, giving siblings less reason to fight, hurt each other, or suffer long-term sibling wounds over unspoken rules.
Overview of setting up the family meeting
Parents should initiate the family meeting and be the moderators, setting guidelines and rules to ensure that everyone is heard.
It is important as a parental mediator to be impartial throughout the family meeting. If differences come up, allow the siblings to work it out through “Go Around” exchanges , in which everyone expresses an opinion in turn.
One effective Go Around technique, is to ask each sibling to talk about what is good in the family and what is difficult, a technique that may bring up the strife between the siblings. But in a setting in which a parent is mediating, siblings and step-siblings are encouraged to talk openly while others are encouraged to listen, discuss, and resolve their problems. To ensure that arguments do not get out of control, you need allow family members to express their feelings, but exert enough control to allow dialogue to take place and solutions to be debated.
The family as a team can decide when and where to hold the meetings. With young families, meetings are more effective if they are short, around fifteen minutes. You can create an agenda and email it to the older kids; otherwise, you can read the agenda at the meeting or post it somewhere in the house. You can also have someone at the meeting take the minutes, either by hand or on a laptop or other device.
After the meeting, the person who took the minutes can email them to all family members. Minutes should include the decisions or new rules made at the meeting. This is a fun way both to have kids participate and to use the technology they love. You can also post minutes someplace where all family members can see them.
Being flexible with the Family Meeting is a key component to making it work for everyone. Kids can have a low boredom threshold so it your meeting is too much like school or the parents are preaching the whole time, it won’t work. Different things are going to come up every week so make room for them.
Here is an example of some typical family meeting agenda topics:
A. What happened last week
B. What’s happening this week and future/holiday plans.
C. Old stuff
D. New stuff
E. Money stuff (There’s always money stuff)
F. Something wonderful my family did for me
G. Something wonderful I did for my family
H. Questions/comments about anything that anyone needs or wants to talk about
Family review and retrospective
In The Secrets of Happy Families, author Bruce Felier took a lesson from tech startups and tried implementing “agile development” into his family’s weekly meetings. Agile development is a system that many software development companies use to get constant feedback on how projects are going in order to make adjustments on the fly. An important principle of agile development is the weekly “review and retrospective” in which teams get together to discuss issues and make action plans based on changing circumstances. Felier incorporated this idea into his family meetings by spending time discussing these three questions:
What worked well in our family this week?
What went wrong in our family this week?
What will we work on this coming week?
By regularly discussing these questions, everyone should have a good idea of what’s working well and not so well in your family, as well as have a constantly updated plan of action for what to do if things go awry. The key thing to remember with the family review and retrospective questions is to focus on how you’re doing as a family. Don’t use this time to discuss individual problems or grievances. You’ll have time for that later.
Ask if anybody needs help with anything?
After discussing problems that you’re family is facing as a group, dedicate some time for individual family members to bring up personal problems they could use some help on.
Every family meeting/night should end with something fun. What constitutes fun will vary from family to family. Play video or board games together. Take a walk. Shoot slingshots. Make pizzas. Whatever floats your family’s boat. Including, quite literally, root beer floats.
Close the meeting
Have a closing ritual too. Sing a song, do another prayer, have a family hug or cheer, or do a combo of such things. Eat something everyone likes! Always try to end on a positive note.
Life Long Skills
Holding a Weekly Family Meeting will be one of the highest return investments you will ever make. The habit of family meetings will help your sons and daughters maintain a forum they can use for the rest of their lives. As parents need care and assistance as they age, family meetings are one of the best tools for siblings to rally around each other and delegate tasks while they decide what to do.
If you as a parent create this habit when they are kids, you are not only teaching them how the family settles disputes but how they can plan and delegate in the future.
NOTE: If you have younger children, the site “Parents are people too” have great templates for easy downloading. You may find it easier to work with these templates to start. If you have other great ideas or templates, please share! http://parents-are-people-too.com/tool-kit-how-to-hold-successful-family-meetings/
Do you have a question about setting up a family meeting in your home? Then ask away! I have lots of experience in this area, especially with traumatic family situations.