You know something is trending in parenting when it's on the TV show "Modern Family." Yes, it's true -- I watched an episode where they actually held a family meeting. Believe me, what you see on TV is not the actual style that I recommend, but maybe more parents will adopt this tremendously helpful practice now that it's a Hollywood-endorsed idea.
5 benefits of holding family meetings:
1. Children are more likely to comply to household rules when they have a say in establishing them.
2. When children feel heard and their contributions are valued, they're generally more co-operative.
3. Family meetings are a type of team-building exercise that helps families bond and improves relationships.
4. Meetings teach children critical problem-solving abilities, which research proves is an important life skill that contributes to a child's resiliency.
5. Your house will operate more smoothly as you solve family problems together rather than treating all issues as disciplinary in nature.
Who wouldn't want those benefits? So how does one actually go about holding a family meeting? Let me break it down into the elements first:
I suggest you meet once a week at a set time. Mark it on the calendar and honour it like any other appointment. Kids need consistency and predictability in their lives. If they know there is a meeting every Sunday night, they can manage to live with the existing rules until the end of the week when they can air their beefs about why they don't like the current arrangements and ask for changes.
Nobody likes a long boring meeting -- adults and kids included. Keep them as short and sweet as you can -- aim for 20 to 30 minutes max.
Age to start at
As soon as they can converse! I know that sounds a tad crazy, but the types of things you'll be discussing with them should be age appropriate, so no worries. Don't ask your three-year-old for his input on whether the mortgage renewal should be fixed rate or variable. He may want to chime in with opinions about what to pack for toys on the upcoming trip to grandma's house, though.
Meetings are voluntary! You can't mandate a child to attend or participate. Believe me, they will just ruin the meeting anyway. Instead, let the dissenters know they don't have to attend, but whatever family agreements are made at the meeting will apply to everyone, so if they want some input they should come!
Roles and responsibilities
I suggest you have a chairperson and a secretary. Kids are eager for leadership roles in the family, so capitalize on this. Of course, you will have to teach them this skill. It can be helpful to "co-chair" the meeting while they're learning. Rotating these roles shows children your commitment to the democratic processes.
Every well-run meeting has an agenda to follow. The basic agenda for a family meeting will include:
Compliments and appreciation
Just like when you have a job review, it's nice to hear about strengths before looking at areas of improvement. Mostly we focus on what is not working with families. At least once a week, it's important to remind ourselves of all that is good and what we appreciate about our families.
There are a bunch of different ways to do give compliments or appreciation. Some families ask each person "name one thing that made you proud to be a part of this family this week." Or "what one thing did you really like about how this week went for our family?"
Review old business
Review the rules and arrangements you implemented from last week's meeting. How are they working? Do they need re-visiting? Tweaking? Think of this as "agile development." It usually takes a few iterations before you get the kinks worked out and a solid plan in place.
This is a list of two or three issues you want to discuss as a family. Mom and dad might include items like: people fighting over the computer or kids not coming to the table for dinner when called. The kids items might be something of this nature: getting a pet guinea pig or asking for a later bedtime.
It's important to avoid re-hashing old fights or pointing the finger to assign blame. Instead, clearly state the problem and ask for possible solutions so things go differently in the future. Brainstorm ideas together. It's important that most of the solution ideas on the list are from the kids rather than the parents. Kids are more likely to like and comply with their own ideas!
Don't vote on which idea is best. If you use Robertson's Rules of Order for a family meeting and you have three children who want a pet -- you're getting a pet! We can't have that. Instead, decisions in the family should be made by consensus -- something everyone can agree to live with -- even for one week.
Consensus also means parents have vito power. If they're the only ones who thinks five hours of computer time is too much a day then they simply have to vote NO and consensus was not reached, so back to the drawing board for another solution.
Family meetings are about family business. Besides problem solving, it's important that kids participate in the division of labour in the running of the household. Creating a chore list and asking kids to sign up for their weekly responsibilities ensure everyone gets a turn at table setting, dog walking, dishwasher loading and no one is stuck doing a job they hate indefinitely.
Parents notoriously forget to pay out allowance, so why not do the distribution of allowance as part of the meeting? It's important not to tie getting your allowance with attending the meeting, though. It's not meant to be an incentive.
Every family should have a big family calendar to write the activities and commitments on. Review the week ahead and see if any planning needs to be done. If you learn that the kids have a birthday party to attend on Saturday, then you can discuss when you are going to shop for a present, how much to spend, where to shop, what's required for the party (snow pants for toboggan party, swim suit for a pool party, etc.) This should avoid the "oh, by the way, it's Jack's birthday party tomorrow and I need a gift."
Book next meeting
While it's good to meet once a week at the same time, many families don't have a predictable schedule. If that is the case, close the meeting by agreeing on when the next meeting will be.
How to start your first meeting
Wow, that seems like a lot doesn't it? Well, it is. I suggest that in the beginning you simply start with two non-contentious agenda items, appreciations and planning what to do for family fun this week. After all that is a problem that needs a solution, too!
It's just a problem children are very motivated to solve and have input on. In the first few months you are simple establishing some ground rules for how meetings work, creating a positive listening atmosphere and teaching children basic skills like taking turns, not interrupting and reaching consensus. Once meeting are going smoothly, you can add some of the other elements and add more difficult problems to the agenda.
Family meetings are a place where children learn they have a say and their voice is heard. Be sure most of the agenda items are posted by the children and that the solutions you're trying are generated by the children. That can be hard for some parents who are closeted control freaks, but I promise you'll reap the rewards of raising co-operative caring children.
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