The Family Meeting
Here’s an obvious no-brainer: quality family time together is good for all family members– and fun, too. For example, parents spending individual time with a child, talking with them, reading with them, without a TV interfering, weave bonds of caring, understanding, familiarity, respect, and appreciation. Parents playing games with children weave bonds of relaxed togetherness, and positive attitudes about fairness, respect, rules, agreements, winning, and losing. Parents carting kids around town to soccer games or practice, or to a friend’s house or to the mall, weave bonds of caring and closeness, and provide their kids with informal times of sharing and confiding, listening, and building trust.
These little informal and fun times together could be considered “family time,” a time together when the family–or part of it–comes together in a joyful spirit of unity. These are special and precious moments, the kind we dreamed of when we first dreamed of starting a family. These times have marvelous benefits for all involved. They are often quite informal, unplanned, and spontaneous. And sometimes they are planned and more elaborate, like a trip to the zoo or a movie, or to grandma’s house, or to a park or to another city or state. All of these, and many more times of togetherness, provide the family with an opportunity for a loving “meeting of the minds and hearts,” where real communication occurs, and people listen to each other, and enjoy each other, strengthening their emotional bonds and weaving loving relationships.
Parents can also introduce these special little experiences into their families through what might be called “family meetings,” or “round tables,” where they intentionally invite the other family members to share with everyone what is on their mind. Such meetings are more “formal” than the spontaneous heart-to-heart talks I referred to above, and they have been shown to have marvelous benefits, such as:
- Building bonds of closeness and respect with each other;
- Teaching listening skills and simple demonstrations of respect;
- Strengthening family communication, understanding, and mutual acceptance;
- Improving self-discipline and cooperation in the children;
- Teaching problem-solving skills to the children;
- Teaching goal setting to the children;
- Resolving family conflicts;
- Encouraging self-expression;
- Giving everyone recognition and support;
- Planning family activities;
- Making decisions together;
- Teaching time and money management to the children.
If you’d like to institute a more “formal” family meeting in your family, I suggest that you arrange to have it on a regular basis with a set time and place once a week or once every two weeks, whether you are a single parent or a couple. Here are some ideas to get you started. With the children’s input, determine:
- Who will facilitate the meeting? (Taking turns might be a good idea after you’ve done it a few times yourself).
- How/when is the agenda set? You might post a sheet on the refrigerator, or hang up a small chalk board. Allow everyone to contribute agenda items.
- When will the meeting be held? (If possible, when everyone can attend.)
- How often will it be held? Once a week at a certain day and time is common, but not necessary.
- How long will it be? It’s best to start with shorter meetings, and lengthen if necessary.
- What are the ground “rules” (agreements)? Some examples might include:
- No arguing, fighting, name-calling.
- Everyone speaks only for self.
- Each speaker uses a “talking stick” (for example the salt shaker) which is distributed by the meeting facilitator; that person then has the floor and should not be interrupted.
- Everyone is free to contribute, but no one is forced to talk.
- If necessary, the facilitator decides whose turn it is to talk.
- Everyone listens to the speaker respectfully, with no side conversations or goofing around.
- Confidentiality: what is said here stays here.
- End the meeting on time, unless everyone agrees to go longer.
Here are some ideas that you might want to include in your design of an agenda for a more formal family meeting. Modify and change to suit your family’s preferences.
- Establish the ground “rules” (agreements) and review them at each meeting.
- Use a round-robin to open the meeting. For example::
- Everyone tells one nice thing that the person to his or her right did since the last meeting.
- Each person identifies one fun thing the family could do together.
- Finalize the agenda (“Here’s what we have… Who has something else to add?”)
- How has it gone for each person since the last meeting–positives and negatives?
- Things that need to be decided. Give each person’s complaint about five minutes of attention, and try to resolve the problem. Afterwards, post any decisions made.
- A fun thing we will do together before the next meeting (optional)
- Establish the date and time of the next meeting.
- End with playing a game (optional).
HAVE FUN WITH THIS! EXPERIMENT, AND MAKE YOUR FAMILY MEETING BE YOUR OWN STYLE.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.