Family meetings help busy families stay connected, improve communication, self-esteem, emotional support and problem solving. Another advantage of family meetings is that they eliminate the need for nagging. If a solution is not followed during the week, the person who notices this can simply write the item on the agenda again. At the next meeting, the family can discuss the consequences of not following the agreed-upon rules until a consensus is reached on that.
Family meetings are good times to set house rules. You are relaxed and the kids are more receptive. Spur-of-the-moment rules ("You're grounded!") made when you are angry are likely to be unfair and un-followed.
Getting together to sort out discipline problems is a valuable way for moms and dads and kids to express their concerns. Discipline problems that involve one youngster should be handled privately, but there are times when all the kids get a bit lax in the self-control department and the whole family needs a reminder.
Suppose your house is continually a mess. Call a family meeting and invite suggestions from the kids on how to keep the house tidy. Use a chalkboard to make it more businesslike. Write down the problem and propose solutions. Put together a "kids want/parents want" list in order to set goals. To avoid “chore wars,” assign each youngster a room to tidy-up. Then you will know who is responsible and who to compliment.
Formulate house rules for happier living. Arriving at a general consensus is better than voting, which has winners and losers. Try a suggestion box and have the kids write their suggestions on little cards. You'll learn a lot about your living habits that way. One father got a suggestion from his teenage daughter: "Dad, please ask me to help instead of demanding that I help."
You can use family councils to help a youngster solve a problem. Develop a share-and-care atmosphere. Make the meeting fun. Besides your living room, try other meeting places (e.g., family picnic at the park). “Meetings” shape family behavior and are a forum in which to foster family communication.
Important Tips for Successful Family Meetings—
1. The first meeting sets the tone. Plan for it! Have a short fun game, a nice refreshment, and positive comments or rewards.
2. After meetings are a well-accepted routine, do not use the Family Meeting time only to resolve conflicts, but also to work out schedules, talk about good news, and to plan for fun, making sure all meetings are sprinkled with a healthy amount of humor, praise and rewards.
3. Allow the kids a chance to talk. If you are raising allegations against them, give the kids a chance to explain themselves or provide reasoning for their actions. Make sure the meeting does not turn into a lecture by promoting the kid's ability to speak and be heard.
4. At the first meeting remind everyone to contribute to the conversation, listen to others and to be supportive, not critical.
5. Create a procedure that begins and ends the Family Meeting on a positive note. Moms and dads can say something positive about every youngster, and at the end of the meeting, every youngster can say something positive about the other person on their left, for example.
6. Discuss all the materials that you wanted to discuss. If you are there to discuss certain misbehavior by one of the kids, do this concisely. Do not beat around the bush, as this can aggravate the kids, making them more difficult to speak to about it.
7. Don't let the desire to solve problems get you into a situation where sensitive matters are brought out in front of everyone. The Family Meeting is a public forum, and not the place to "gang" up on moms and dads, children, or solve multiple conflicts. This can get out of control quickly, and respect for moms and dads and children alike is extremely important.
8. In most families, discussions of chores usually take up a good deal of meeting time, at least at the beginning. To get started with this, it is helpful to use a meeting to make a list of all the jobs that need to be done daily, weekly, and monthly. Be sure to include in this list all the jobs the adults do that might otherwise be taken for granted, such as earning money, paying the bills, and shopping for groceries. One way to divide up the chores is to ask for volunteers to take responsibility for each one. After you reach agreement on this, someone can write up an individual job list for each family member. Trading job assignments is another way to divide up chores. For example, one youngster may hate taking out the trash but would be willing to do laundry. Trading can be good, but moms and dads should make sure that no one is taken advantage of in this process. Another way to assign chores is to rotate them systematically among family members each week or month, or distribute them randomly at each meeting. There are many creative solutions, and whatever system your family agrees to is the one that will work the best. Whatever system you use, you can expect some aspect of chores to keep reappearing on the family meeting agenda. This ongoing negotiation, although time-consuming, is important to the success of the family unit.
9. It is important to have a written agenda. If something is eliminated, moms and dads need to meet with the youngster and explain why (e.g., some things are personal, some things are ridiculous, some things are argumentative, etc).
10. It's helpful to use the Family Meeting to discuss consequences for certain behaviors; children will often come up with penalties parents would think were too strict. While moms and dads are still in charge, letting children pick their "punishment" to a certain degree is helpful.
11. Maintain order in the meeting by having the adults speak first. This will set the stage for what the meeting is going to be about. State clearly what you are going to be talking about and in what order things will be spoken about. Make sure the group knows that only one person is permitted to speak at a time to prevent confusion and agitation.
12. Meetings work best if no one adds any items to the agenda once the meeting has started. In order for meetings to run smoothly, there needs to be a chairperson and a secretary. These responsibilities should change each week so that each member of the family has a chance to participate in the leadership; as soon as kids are old enough to do these jobs, they should have their turn.
13. Mom and dad should be the co-moderators for meetings in the beginning. Share the moderator duties with kids as you go along.
14. Moms and dads listen for and acknowledge the feelings that are expressed, ask open-ended questions to clarify the problem, and then brainstorm solutions with the entire family.
15. Moms and dads model making an action plan and help kids set a specific goal to continue positive experiences or address problems identified this week.
16. Moms and dads offer praise, encouragement and support for the good things that each person mentions.
17. Prohibit arguing in the meeting by snuffing it out before it begins. If you see a disagreement begin to develop, do what you can to resolve it right away.
18. Pick a day when all can attend. This may take some discussion but be firm and in the end, just pick a date. Sacrifice might be necessary, but promise short meetings and stick to it.
19. Set a scheduled time for meetings, post it where everyone will see and stick to the time. If moms and dads are committed to the project, it will have more impact.
20. Some families have discovered the importance of starting and ending on time. Unfinished items can be carried over to another meeting, even if it needs to be the next day. In any case, meetings should have a definite end; it's fun to end with a special dessert or a short game, if time permits.
21. Sometimes moms and dads report that their kids are at first resistant to the idea of family meetings, thinking that this is merely a new trick to get the kids to do what the moms and dads want. When this occurs, parents should restrict the agenda items of the first few meetings to pleasant topics that are not emotionally charged, such as planning a family trip or discussing how to celebrate an upcoming birthday.
22. Strive for consensus rather than always voting. It is worth finding solutions that everyone is happy with, even when this requires more time. Consensus means that each solution should have 100 percent agreement among all family members before the next agenda item is taken up. When consensus is hard to reach on a specific issue, the chairperson can ask if everyone agrees to end the discussion, but to have that issue be first on the agenda at the next meeting. Perhaps it is possible to reach consensus on a compromise.
23. Talk about the activities for the days and week ahead. Briefly discussing what everyone has ahead of them is a great way to help children stay informed and to actually understand what others in the family do. Children tend to be self-focused, which is part of their "age and stage." This becomes increasingly important as kids grow older and participate in numerous activities. This skill will also help them learn organization skills, all important for the future.
24. The chairperson's job is to see that each agenda item is addressed in order, to ensure that no one interrupts the person speaking, and to keep the discussion on the topic at hand. The secretary writes down the decisions reached.
25. The magic number of rules for comfortable meetings seems to be 5. Having too many rules is just like too many cooks in a kitchen. Confusion is the result. It will weigh the meeting down, and someone will have to be the "enforcer." This is common even in the corporate world. After 5 rules, even adults seem to mentally clock out. Add more rules over time, as things come up. Keep it Simple!
26. The Nuts and Bolts of the Meetings can bog everyone down. Keep agenda items brief, remembering it is the process that's important. Listening to others, contributing to decisions, having fun are all time important.
27. There will be pouting! Ignore the pouting that may occur when some don't get their way. Expect it. It will go away largely on its own as they see that everyone at one time or another "loses" part of their requests and desires as compromises are born.
28. Try to eliminate the "That's not fair!" complaint. Fairness will often appear to be for the goodness of all, not necessarily the individual. Ii think this word is highly over used. We need to teach our kids how to accept things that are not fair because they're going to run into it a lot!! "Fair" is subjective. Giving in is an important trait, family members need to know that sacrificing their personal desires and "vote" sometimes is normal and right. You can keep your opinion, even though the family may feel the need to not act on it.
29. Try to keep the agendas of your family meetings centered around issues that have a tangible effect on you, such as issues of noise, use of the TV or the family car, help with chores, and messes in the common areas of your home.
30. Close the meeting on a positive note. Perhaps end it with ordering pizza or going out for a snack. This will help the kids associate the family meetings with positive things rather than boring or disciplinary things. If discipline is necessary, still try to do what you can to make the end of the meeting positive. Be lenient if you can or allow the youngster a chance to apologize in exchange for a lighter sentence. However, to ensure the apology is heartfelt, do not tell the youngster beforehand that there will be a lighter sentence.
Family meetings should:
- be balanced by containing some rules, some firmness, some fun
- be pleasant
- be short
- be uninterrupted by the world
- contain structure but not be weighed down heavily by it
- have a direction, purpose and easily determined focus (no one should leave the meeting thinking "Huh? What was this about?”)
- involve everyone, stressing sharing, taking turns, and listening to others
Examples of common topics of family conflict are:
- Borrowing other's possessions with or without permission
- Division of chores
- Interrupting others
- Leaving lights on and other family budget matters
- Showing respect for others (e.g., entering bedrooms without knocking, picking up after yourself, monopolizing electronic game time/TV/music/phone/computer)
- Use of the bathroom
Use the 'Go Around' method for discussions. Go around the circle, giving each family member the opportunity to respond to the topic:
Topic 1: Something that made you feel good this week.
Topic 2: Something that bothered you this week.
Topic 3: Something that you want to work on or accomplish next week.
Topic 4: Your schedule for the week. What meetings, appointments, tests, special events or projects you have this week.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents