When your family grows and your children are old enough to articulate their own thoughts and opinions and value the thoughts and opinions of others, it’s time to start Family Meetings.
What is a family meeting: A family meeting is an opportunity to come together in a structured and pre-planned way to share triumphs and sorrows, concerns and opinions, without fear of judgment or punishment. A family meeting is where the big and small problems can be hashed out, openly. All members of the family can participate and everyone’s opinion holds equal weight at the family meeting.
How often should family meetings be held? Family meetings can be held infrequently, only when a larger issue or decision needs to be made, for instance. But most children love the regular structure of weekly or monthly recurring meeting.
Where should meetings be held? Meetings should be held at a time when everyone feels refreshed and no one feels rushed to go off or get back to what they were doing. Some families enjoy having family meetings out at a restaurant or at home over a good meal. Others are more comfortable congregating in front of the fireplace on the floor or in other quiet locations.
Who leads the meeting? Many families find that rotating leaders provides a positive opportunity for quieter or more reserved family members or younger siblings to take a leadership position within the family, on occasion. Children who wouldn’t ordinarily volunteer often make the best leaders! Children who are old enough to read (an agenda) and write (meeting minutes) are old enough to lead. Some younger children can lead with the assistance of a parent. If your child hates writing, another child or parent can take notes.
Why take notes? When the family makes important decisions about how to handle an issue within the family, it is important to get it down in writing so that it can be referred to at a later date. This can help resolve future debates or squabbles over the same issue.
What should be discussed? All family meetings should start out with each person sharing something positive that happened during the span of time since the last meeting. This gives everyone a chance to hear and appreciate the strengths of ALL family members. Also, it gives children a chance to connect with their parents’ strengths in a way that often never occurs through normal family interaction. It is a real self-esteem booster to talk about your accomplishments and to be heard by your entire family. Words of actions (such as clapping) of acknowledgment should be modeled and encouraged!
Next, better attentions start to wane, you should discuss any major issues or decisions that need to be made. Some families use a family meeting to discuss or vote on future family vacations, to break important news such as new babies, decisions to move, etc. Most of these large issues will be introduced by the parents. You should decide with your spouse exactly how much input your children will be afforded. If you are moving, for sure, then you should state it that way, for instance. Allow the children to discuss choices only when their opinions really will weigh into your final decision. Allow plenty of opportunities for opinions to be stated, questions to be asked and answers to be given in full. This isn’t the time to blow anything off unless the answer needs to be discussed with your spouse before a fair or firm answer can be given. In this case offer to share the answer at the next family meeting.
Last but definitely not least, when all major issues are settled or shared, the family should not move on to the “small but important to me” issues. It is here that parents and children will learn to practice really hearing each other, not being critical or judgmental, being respectful and using creative problem solving skills. In our family, the children would often have recurring issues throughout the week but would forget during the heat of the moment at the family meeting. We found it helpful to leave up an open list on the refrigerator so that people could write down their issues as they came up. If the issue involved another child, it helped the other child to prepare, in advance, to defend or explain his or her part in the problem. This sped things up at the family meetings. Allow each child to take the floor and share any issues – school issues, friend issues, personal issues, family issues. Anything is fair game at the family meeting. After the issue is stated, allow all siblings to voice their opinions and weigh in on the issue. No resolution needs to be determined. It is simply an exercise in listening, empathizing, offering problem solving solutions and leaving the person empowered with ideas and support to work through their own problems with respect and dignity.
You will find that, depending on the age of your children, you may have to scale down the meetings. We have six children and I know our meetings could go on for hours! But the important thing is that the family joins together to meet, discuss, problem-solve and share.