A parent asked me the other day, “How do I go about setting up a round table discussion in my home?” This parent was inquiring about how to gather the children and adults in her home to have, what I call, a “family meeting.”
The difficulty in beginning this routine of family meetings once children are grown is that parents may experience some ambiguity to discussions or some push back to the meeting altogether.
The Purpose of Family Meetings
The idea of family meetings is to help support the function in the household so all members are on the same page, as well as to offer positive encouragement for what’s going right and to offer suggestions in what can run much more smoothly.
Having family meetings can be a bit tricky because parents often prefer to create change rather than focus on what is going well, creating a negative space that the child will not want to engage in, or rather may engage in unwanted ways. Children, similar to adults, like to hear positive feedback more so than the negative, so it’s highly important to have a healthy balance of the two.
Some benefits to setting up family meetings early on are:
- children are exposed to meeting model behavior for discussions
- children learn to listen and wait their turn during conversations
- children learn to advocate for themselves in a positive manner
- parents also use listening skills and have the ability to model clarifying questions, feeling words, and healthy ways to communicate differences of opinions, concerns, and disagreements
Parents also show their children that they too must abide by the same rules as the children, building a mutual respect. Conflict can and most inevitably will be part of a family meeting. Through this conflict, family members can learn conflict resolution, including how we respond to conflict using “fight or flight” responses, what it feels like to experience humility in an apology, how to communicate emotions, and how to create solutions even when uncomfortable. We also learn compromise and negotiation.
For starters, I call family meetings as part of my “family policy.” My family policy consists of the rules and routines in my home, mostly children created. The more a child has interest in their own rules and routines, the higher the buy in and likelihood they will obey their own rules.
Attending family meetings is a family policy requirement. The challenge for most parents is starting this new routine once children have established a family household without the activity of family meetings. Older teens, especially, may give the eye roll and feel put off toward having to participate.
How to Conduct Family Meetings
The parent who came to me with the inquiry about how to establish a family meeting had the goal of ultimately creating a space for communication for what’s going wrong in the functions of the home. In order to get child participation, I advised her that she start out with family meetings as being something positive and safe, such as a game night or a quick meeting about something positive the parent has observed in the home.
Once this safe space has been established, perhaps the next meeting can be about setting up a list of rules for the family meeting. Examples are: no cell phones, no swear words, use of a “talking stick” so only one person can speak at a time, and perhaps setting a time limit so children know how much time away from other activities they will be required to commit to the meeting. Tailor the rules so that children help create them and so they are witness to even adults having to keep their behaviors in check.
The timeliness of meetings is up to you. My family has been doing them for years, so when I call a meeting they know a big decision needs to be made or something has offset our balance. You may want to start with once a week or once every other week and taper them off once you find more balance in your home.
Similar to business meetings, you can always ask your family to keep track of items they feel would be important for the meeting. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have discussions outside the family meeting, this means the discussions worth everyone hearing be tabled for a family meeting.
I suggest not having family meetings during family meals. Be sure family meetings are at a day and time that you’re assured all can attend, all are rested, and bellies are not hungry. We know how ill-tempered we can be when we’re hangry or need a nap!
Family meetings can be held in the living room with everyone sitting in a circle on the sofa, in chairs, and on pillows. To avoid any sort of power differential, it’s advised that no one is standing. Sitting around a dining table or a picnic table works too, but is less casual than the living room idea.
Our bedrooms are our safe places. For this reason, I do not advise family meetings be held in bedrooms. Try being creative with something like a camp fire pit — there’s not much more relaxing than poking at a fire with the sound of a low crackle and the sight of dancing light. This is great for encouraging mindfulness. We will save that for another article.
The Fundamentals of a Family Meeting
The fundamentals of a family meeting are important. We want participant buy in and a high reoccurrence rate. There’s no absolute way of structure so long as your main goal is to start the meeting on a positive and end it on a positive. What you fill up in the middle will be by trial and error.
I do have some suggestions to help get you off on the right foot. First, I suggest always starting a family meeting revisiting the rules. Second, I suggest the family go around the circle and listen as each person share a high point with the group. This can be something uplifting that’s happened to them since the last meeting, something awesome happening in their world that perhaps they haven’t shared with everyone.
It’s important that during this time parents model celebration for victories; give a high five or say a simple, “Man, I bet that felt great!” This is a perfect time for doing what I call “making a deposit.” The more positive deposits (affirmation, validation, praise), we make into a child’s bank, the more stable they will be when we must take a withdrawal (correction, punishment).
Making deposits, again, creates a balance in the home. No one wants to live in punity all of the time, that’s no fun. And the more unbalance there is in a child’s banking (trust) system, the more likely they are to misbehave or break family policy, and unfortunately these rebellious streaks are a hard habit to break. Prevention is key. Always think, “deposit, deposit, deposit!”
Third, as the parent, take hold of the family meeting and discuss something positive, such as how the week has been going so far, or reflecting on a change that you’ve observed that came from your last meeting.
If you’re listing strengths or noting a positive redirection in a child’s positive behavior, be certain to do the same for all children. There can always be something good; sometimes you may have to dig, but it’s important to the function of the meeting that there is balance and fairness.
Maybe the fourth component is that you leave the meeting on this positive note. Perhaps there’s nothing new to discuss. Or, maybe the fourth step of the meeting is to bring about a need for change. For example, let’s say chores have been forgotten this week.
First, make your observation: “I noticed that chores were mostly forgotten this week.” Second, share how this impacts the family: “I feel our home is more unorganized when chores are not complete.” (Please notice my “I feel” statement.) Third, “Does anyone have any solutions to how we can do better with remembering to do chores?”
This is the time you may hear push back: “I don’t like my chore, it makes me gag.” Or, “I wasn’t here all week. I had music recital, basketball, and I made dad’s birthday cake.” Whatever the response, it opens the forum for solution. If you don’t receive a response, you can always ask more questions: “Did any one notice the garbage didn’t make it down to the driveway?” or, “Did this bother anyone else?”
This is also a great time for support. “If we know you have basketball every night, would it be better to complete your chore in the morning?” or even ask, “How can I support you in not forgetting your chore? Write it on the board, put a note on the mirror…?”
Once a solution is discovered, Step Five, the final closing step, returns to a positive note. “I noticed this week that everyone pitched in and helped with my chore. It felt great! Did anyone else experience someone helping them this week?” I like to call this the Oreo cookie effect. An Oreo has three layers: cookie (positive), filling (need for change), cookie (positive).
Dealing with Conflict During Family Meetings
Now, what about conflict? The time of conflict offers opportunity to model emotional regulation, conflict resolution skills, and even knowing when to take a time out. A good rule of thumb is for parents to model “I feel” statements followed by a feeling or an emotion.
The use of “I feel” statements promotes empathy and understanding from others and reduces the likelihood of conflict by placing others in a position of defense. “I feel worried that our meeting is taking a wrong direction,” is far less threatening than, “Every time we have a meeting, you talk over everyone.”
Family meetings are a great time for using the platform to model desirable and affective behaviors. If conflict gets out of hand, there’s always opportunity to pause the meeting, change the subject, or admit that the topic is too heated and that you need a different approach and task for ideas.
The time of conflict also offers opportunity for expression. Family meetings lend a safe space for children to advocate for themselves, knowing they may have the support of other children. Allow children to express themselves and be heard. Use the opportunity to validate their feelings: “I hear what you’re saying, and I’d be frustrated, too.” Sometimes children need the back up of their siblings to voice concern against adults.
Family meetings are beneficial for the function of a household. In many ways, family meetings illuminate the need for change even during the course of the meeting. Parents can communicate and emphasize house rules and routines, and children can offer ideas, thus increasing odds for compliance.
Family meetings can be a positive outlet for all household members to communicate their needs. As time goes on, perhaps this will be a family policy your child takes to college when living with roommates or even on to raising their own family.
If you find that creating family meetings is too large a challenge or if you find constant conflict no matter what changes you make during your already established family meetings, feel free to reach out to me and we can set up an appointment for a family counseling session and I can mediate and offer helpful ideas for your meetings. In as little as one appointment, your family meetings will be highly functioning and you’ll be reaping the reward of streamlining daily routines, rules, and household function.
Thank you for reading, and I’m excited to share future parenting ideas with you.
“Family Time”, Courtesy of Rhone, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman and Child”, Courtesy of Bruno Nascimento, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Ergli Campfire”, Courtesy of Daiga Ellaby, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Shoes”, Courtesy of Denis Cardoso, Unsplash.com, CC0 License