Most parents strive for a strong, connected family. One where their kids feel heard and appreciated, and their parental values are deeply instilled.
While this goal is important, it can also be a challenging one. Despite good intentions, it’s the daily routines and inevitable detours to our routine that can undermine our best efforts. Attention is devoted to “putting out fires” rather than bonding and deepening the connections we desire most.
But what if there was a way to address both everyday problems and our greater goals for our families? To employ a simple strategy to create a bonded, resilient family unit?
Enter the family meeting. Key to building a connected, positive family culture, family meetings can address everything from celebrating accomplishments and distributing chores to facing stressful or serious issues.
Benefits of family meetings include better communication, improved problem-solving skills, and the opportunity to be proactive and mindful about challenges (rather than reactive) for everyone involved. Kids’ sense of independence grows when they make decisions that impact the family.
Here are 4 necessary steps to get started, and create a meeting that supports and strengthens your family bond.
1. Encourage Participation
The ultimate point of family meetings is to connect and listen. So every member must be included. (Once kids can talk, they are old enough to participate).
Tell your kids that you’ll be starting a “special time” each week when every person in the family gets to share how they feel, ask questions, or talk about things that bother them. Let them know anyone can suggest things to talk about, and it’s even a time to plan exciting adventures like family trips or outings.
Other ways to inspire involvement:
- Pair meetings with incentives (post-meeting dessert, board games, or other fun activities)
- Let kids choose their roles (recording secretary, leader, or snack maker are just some of the tasks they can try)
- Keep meetings short (about 15-30 minutes). As kids get older, you can extend up to an hour.
- Stay flexible and never coerce kids into participating. Instead, invite them to share if they’d like to, and tell them it’s fine either way. (Phrases like, “We’d love to hear more from you and know what you think” can be a good start.)
Our Positivity Kit is a collection of printable posters, games, activities and coloring sheets designed to help children develop and maintain a positive attitude. These fun and engaging activities will help kids train their brains to be more positive, boost their confidence and resilience and create family connections.
Of all the ways to engage participation, know that your undivided attention is the greatest incentive of all. When kids see that family meetings mean uninterrupted time with you, they will naturally want to join in.
2. Establish Rules of Engagement
Kids do best when guidelines are clear, and limits and boundaries keep everyone feeling safe.
At your first family meeting, spend time considering ground rules together, such as:
- A day, time and meeting place that works for everyone (the kitchen or dining room, a local pizza place or your backyard are all suitable locations)
- Frequency of meetings (once a week is recommended)
- Who will fill the roles of “leader” and “note taker” each week (they can be the same person, rotate, or any configuration that works for your family)
- Only one person talks at a time
- No electronics
- Be kind
- Everyone gets to participate
To ensure that each family member is heard, consider using a talking stick, stuffed animal or other visual that gives you the “floor.” You can also set a timer and suggest that everyone share for 2-3 minutes.
Finally, remember to review agreements at the start of each meeting (and refer back to them if and when it goes off track). With a set of guidelines, the family meeting is less likely to be derailed by negative behaviors or arguments.
3. Create an Agenda
With your family rules in place, it’s time to consider the agenda. It can be simple and brief, with no more than 3-4 steps. Generally, it can cover:
- a brief opening activity
- discussion time (reflections on the previous week and considering the upcoming week)
- positive closing activity
Of the many great options for opening your family meeting, consider those that increase gratitude and recognition of each family member’s strengths and challenges. You can:
- Share “roses and thorns” or “sweet and sour” events of the day (what went well and what was difficult for each member)
- Choose a Three Seas Conversation Cards question from a jar or a growth mindset quote that everyone can respond to
- Give compliments (thank a family member for something they did, or say what you like about your family or a specific member)
- Sit in a circle and hold hands or light a candle together
- Read your family manifesto
Next, move into discussion time. Reflect on the previous week with questions like, “What went well in our family last week?” or “What could we work to improve?”
Consider the upcoming week, including any scheduling issues or events that require discussion. Questions like, “What will we work on in the coming week?” or “What do you look forward to?” are excellent options.
As complaints and concerns arise, have the recorder make note of them. Work together to find solutions rather than correcting or singling out any particular family member (“What can we do about that?” or “How might we work together to make this better?”). When the vibe is positive, kids will want to keep coming back.
Be sure to close the meeting on a happy note--a family chant or motto, a group hug, and a fun activity like dessert and a board game will help ensure future participation. Have the recorder post the agenda low on the refrigerator or another reachable spot where kids (and you) can add what you’ll talk about in the coming week.
Our Growth Mindset Activity Kit is a great resource for families! Choose from one of the fun movement-based activities to help cultivate connections and a growth mindset!
4. Be Realistic
Expect challenging moments. The reality is that meetings may not go smoothly each week or cover every topic you have planned. And that’s a good thing! Each difficulty is an opportunity to grow your “family brain” by tackling the challenges together.
Here are 3 common hurdles and ways to address them:
Resistance to Participating
While family meetings are appropriate (and beneficial) for kids of all ages, the reality is that those 3 and under might have trouble participating fully.
Older kiddos might say they don’t like the meetings. Remind them that this special time was created for them to influence what happens in the family. And ask about ways you could change things up to make it more comfortable--a different venue or time of day. The key is to stay determined and keep the meetings going!
Issues are not resolved
Remember that the purpose of the family meeting is to connect and be heard. Solutions are not always required. It can be helpful to ask kids, “Do you just need to vent or would you like help brainstorming ways we could deal with this?”
Believing that every problem identified in the family meeting must be fully resolved creates undue pressure and strain. Know that simply by talking about what’s happening, you’re making a difference.
Parents Run the Show
In a study of family meetings, the biggest error parents made was talking too much.
“Children are not thrilled about family meetings that provide another platform for parents to lecture. Parents need to talk less and listen more.” -Dr. Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline Expert
While your kiddos are speaking, simply breathe and focus on what they have to say. Then reflect it back to them (“I think you’re saying you want your brother to play with you more. Is that right?”) rather than considering your own response. Active listening is a skill, and it takes time to learn.
While the perfect family meeting does not exist, we can learn and grow from that. Family Meeting Handbook author Katherine Foldes reminds us that “in family meetings, as in life, we do not expect perfection; we all make mistakes. We are all teachers and we are all learners.”