By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for East Portland API, Oregon USA
No matter if yours is a family of two or ten, taking regular opportunities to get together and talk about “business” helps families connect and communicate. Much like staff meetings in an office, family meetings offer a chance to share successes, brainstorm solution to problems, make plans, and set goals. The idea is to create a specific time to talk about issues that may not have an opportunity to come up naturally in conversation.
There is no magic age for children to participate in family meetings, as long as they can share their voice. Children as young as two years old may enjoy getting in on a conversation about the day. When children are young, family meetings may begin at the dinner table, as meal times are very conducive to discussion. Over the years, as more family members are involved, meetings may be held anywhere it’s easy to focus on communication and work through problems.
In the beginning stages of developing family meetings, they will be very short and informal. The goal is to get used to communicating as a family, and also to get into the habit of coming together. They may start out as once a week, but more likely just once a month at first. When children are very young, the only components to a family meeting may be compliments, plans for the day, and a game. As children get older, it will be easier to add other components to the meeting, and fit them in every week. Here are several elements families can include in their meetings:
- Give compliments and show appreciation — This is great way to open a meeting. Taking turns saying something nice about another family member allows everyone to feel appreciated in a specific way and starts the meeting on a positive note.
- Share favorites and least favorites — This is a good conversation opener or warm-up to the discussion. Family members take turns sharing their favorite and least favorite part of the day. It’s nice to share successes, and it may also bring up a problem for discussion.
- Identify problems — This gives everyone a chance to share something they’re struggling with and get some help. It could be something as innocuous as “I frequently run out of clean shirts,” or something more emotional like “I don’t have any friends.” Any problems, great or small, can be addressed at family meetings.
- Brainstorm solutions — When a problem is up for discussion, it’s helpful to make a list of all possible solutions, regardless of feasibility. When everyone has shared their ideas, go back and look at the list for the most applicable ones, and decide together on which one(s) to try.
- Suggest meals — Family meetings are a good time to get input on the menu for the week or upcoming events!
- Coordinate schedules — Meetings can be a time to discuss everyone’s plans and activities, car juggling, and social events for the week.
- Plan family activities and outings — With all the hustle and bustle of daily schedules, it’s great to be able to do something fun just as a family. Take time to plan a recreational outing for the family; one that is free of time-constraints and extra people.
- Play a game — Board games, cards games, or whole-body games are fun additions to the ends of family meetings.
Family meetings run smoothly when there is an agenda for discussion topics. Ideally, any family member should be able to add items to the agenda; it should be posted in a common area with a pencil nearby, so that anyone can add topics to it at anytime. Children can write down words or draw pictures to remind them of what they’d like to discuss at the next family meeting. Then, when it’s time for the meeting, grab the ready-made agenda as well as the pencil for jotting down brainstorming ideas and potential solutions.
The most important component of family meetings is the use of nonviolent communication. The purpose of coming together as a family like this is to listen non-judgmentally to everyone’s voice. It’s important not to dismiss anyone’s concerns, and to understand that behind every problem, there is a genuine need that is not being met. The goal of meetings is to find ways to meet everyone’s needs. It is important that everyone’s ideas be considered; not dismissed because “that won’t work.” When considering a problem, no matter how big or small, be sure to take it seriously, and write down everyone’s suggestions, regardless of impracticality. The only way to let children know that their voice matters, and that they have significance in the family is to take them seriously. Family meetings are a wonderful opportunity for taking children seriously.
Make family meetings regular, make them something to look forward to by including compliments, games, and fun stuff, but most importantly, make them valuable to children. Make them an opportunity for kids to unhesitatingly share their thoughts. When children’s voices are regarded, they inherently know that they matter and they have an important place in the family.