What is a family meeting? It’s a chance for everyone to sit down together and check in about how you are doing as a family. And it’s one of the most effective tools for parenting that I know.
“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.”Barton Goldsmith, PhD
So that sounds pretty good, but how do you start a family meeting? In our family, we just sort of did it. We started family meetings when the boys were 3 and 5 years old. They were very simple, and included asking for the kids to tell us what they thought. I quickly noticed that it brought us closer, and that it reinforced the idea that each of us was responsible for our own behavior.
How do you have a constructive family meeting?
This is the actual family meeting we had this week. We try to do this every week, and we always make sure to ask the kids for what they want us to work on as a family. Over the years, these have gotten longer and more detailed, and also a lot more effective. Family meetings get our kids engaged in the idea of working together as a family, and they avoid any one person feeling like the one in trouble.
Lest you read this and think we are some kind of shiny perfect family, I will let you know that I wrote a short version of this agenda and texted it to my husband while my kids were screaming at each other about who stole who’s Pokemon card. It was seriously amazing how passionate and angry they were with each other about this.
How do you have a constructive family meeting when everybody has been having a rough day? That’s why I included expectations for politeness in this week’s meeting.
Having a written agenda helps because my husband and I take turns going over things. This way the kids get to hear praise from each of us, and we reinforce our mutual authority and leadership by each going over some of the expectations and consequences.
Our Family Meeting
Agenda: Expectations for politeness and getting through this meeting: If you interrupt or are disrespectful we will take a break and start over. Your screen time for today does not start until we finish this meeting.
What we are proud of:
1. The new babysitter tried to drive you to school without a booster seat but you insisted and showed her where the extras are in the garage. We are proud you followed our safety plan.
2. You have both been very responsible and diligent getting your homework done.
3. You have been doing your chores well without complaining.
1. You have been fighting too much lately with mean words and getting physical.
2. Let’s get your ideas about what feelings make you want to fight. Our boys participated well and named feelings like anger, when my brother takes my stuff (you feel taken advantage of), when my brother bosses me around (you feel disrespected), frustrated.
3. We have decided to consider violence to be hurting with our words or our bodies.
4. Our expectation is kindness in our speech. If you cannot be kids, or if someone does something you feels is unfair, our expectation is that you will be respectful with your speech.
5. Our new policy: since we are never able to figure out who did what, we are going to do what your Grandma and Grandpa did with your Dad and his brother. Violence with word or with our bodies will lead to immediate time out in your rooms. Time out will end when you are ready to work things out.
6. We’ve noticed you boys are very good at working out your problems with each other. “Yes, we are really good at that,” one of them chimed in. We know you can do it.
7. What can you do if you feel angry and want to hurt your brother? “Walk away!” One boy said. Yes! Exactly.
8. We know that Mommy and Daddy don’t always remember to take a break and reset when we bicker. We are going to keep working on that too. The boys gave an example of a ridiculous argument we had had lately when tired. We acknowledged how silly that was.
Our kids stopped the meeting to jump up and give each other hugs and remind each other how good they were at working out problems.
We continued with problems
Review of Screen Time Rules: 45 min TV on weekdays, 3 hrs each weekend day.
1. We have learned you tricked your new babysitter into giving you iPads on weekdays.
2. The consequence for this is that you will lose 2 hours of screen time this weekend, since you’ve been getting it during the week when we thought you were not.
Clean up cereal you spill. Seriously guys, there is cereal by the front door!
The Pokemon Cards Controversy: guys we will get more in the next cereal box. It is ridiculous to fight over this because soon you’ll both have all of them. The boys giggled.
New Snacking Rules. We reviewed that they could no longer help themselves to 4-5 granola bars and then not eat their nutritious meals. We would allow 1 snack in the afternoon.
Stuff to Look Forward To. We told them about where we were going in a few months on vacation.
How do you start a family meeting?
If you want to start family meetings, please notice what I did here. I included publicly praising them and finished with something to look forward to. We worked on family challenges, not individual infractions! This is so important. If one kid needs to be disciplined, that needs to be done privately. The tone is one of working together with the message that we can do this. We also like to remind them of successes we’ve had in the past working together this way.
Family meetings have been tremendous for our project of growing together as a family. Amazingly, after today’s meeting our kids moods went from stormy to sunny. The sounds of happy imaginative play have filled the house for hours now.
Have you ever wished for a group of parents where you could really let down your hair and admit how rough parenting is? Particularly a group interested in growing into the best parents for their kids? Check out Should-Free Parenting, our facebook group. Don’t forget to subscribe! Or read my blog for Psychology Today.
©Alison Escalante MD
Disclaimer: This article represents general education and does not constitute medical advice. My ideas are mine alone.