Family meetings are a powerful tool to build the life skills that we want our children to have. The family meeting process helps children learn good listening skills, cooperation, mutual respect, and effective solution-focused problem solving. The consistent practice of gathering as a family, giving and receiving compliments, and solving problems helps families run more smoothly and builds family connections.
Start by engaging your family in the practice of having regular (weekly) meetings:
- Teach and practice compliments. Have every family member share something that they appreciate about each of the other family members and themselves. (This alone takes practice!)
- Do something fun together. Play a game together, share a special dessert or take a family walk.
- Repeat just these steps several times.
Once compliments become easier, continue with your weekly meetings:
- Start the meeting with compliments.
- Plan a family activity. It can be short or long; free or cost family resources: a trip to the ice cream store, game night, a home movie and pizza, picnic at the park. (Hint: start small!)
After this is going pretty well, introduce the idea of adding problems/challenges to the agenda:
- As a family, decide how and where to keep the list of issues to be discussed at the next meeting. This could be in a notebook, on a white board or bulletin board. Decide together where it will be kept where it can be seen by all. Many families use a bulletin board or use a magnet to put it on the refrigerator door.
- Remember that this is about problem solving, not tattling.
- At first, only practice with problems that the children put on the agenda.
- When problem solving, stick to solutions. The solutions are always helpful, not hurtful. This may take some time to practice. The people involved in the problem decide what will be most helpful.
After several weeks of practice, the adults can add problems to the agenda, too:
- Start with small problems.
- Remember to focus on solutions.
- Always start with compliments. If you can’t get through a round of compliments, reschedule.
- After compliments, it is helpful to check on the previous week’s solutions. The idea is that problem solving is a process. It doesn’t always work.
- Keep meetings short! (20 minutes at first). That means that not all problems will get solved. It is better to take small steps.
- Family meetings are sometimes challenging. Look for improvement, not perfection. Keep at it even if they don’t always go smoothly. Your children are learning valuable life skills. (Mistakes are opportunities to learn.)
We’ve written about family meetings before here and here.
For more information about family meetings, there is a whole chapter devoted to this topic in the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, EdD.