With school ending, starting a new tradition like family meetings can give your kids some of the structure they will miss from being at school. Family meetings can be a great way to facilitate connectedness in families and give your child a format for discussing values and relevant issues. This can be especially important as your child enters the tween and teen years when they may start becoming more distant from you emotionally. For that reason, it is great to have family meetings in place before your child is at the age when it is important to separate themselves as an individual. Family meetings are great for family cohesion and also teach children important skills such as communicating, brainstorming, and problem solving in a group setting.
So what is a family meeting and what should it involve? A family meeting can be a once per week, distraction-free time (25-45 minutes or so) set aside for all members of your immediate family to share feelings and ideas. A few guidelines can make family meetings more worthwhile and impactful. First, hold the meeting on the same day and at the same time each week. Otherwise, other things can easily take priority with our busy schedules. Next, create an agenda and post it in a place where all family members can write down things they would like to discuss or brainstorm about at the next meeting. This shows your child that you take the idea of her contributions seriously and that helps her feel like an important member of the family. It can also be beneficial to have a bit of a format so that the meeting is organized and everyone’s feelings are heard. Many families have been successful using the following format:
· Compliment one another (it sets a positive tone for the meeting)
· Review anything that didn’t get resolved at the last meeting
· Talk about new issues or decisions that need to be addressed as a family
· Hand out allowances (if you do allowance in your house)
· Close the meeting with something fun, such as a game, a hug, ice cream, etc. It can be something different every time if you wish!
Make sure your family meeting is a time when you truly listen to your child’s ideas and concerns and try to work out ways to compromise. Family meetings are supposed to help children feel a sense of belonging. The most significant outcome of a family meeting is that a child feels heard and respected. That does not mean that your child gets what they want each time they present a topic (such as a later bedtime). What it does mean is that you have truly listened to your child’s point and tried to work out a solution to the problem. If your child brings up a topic that you are not ready to budge on, rather than simply saying, “No way!,” after listening to your child’s point, you can instead say something such as “I’m not comfortable with that right now. Let’s bring that topic up again after your birthday.” or “I’m not sure I can say yes just yet, but let’s bring that up again at the next meeting.” You will have more time to think through your child’s request and determine an agreeable scenario by buying some more time.
Family meetings rarely fail but if your child does not care for them after trying to meet a time or two, ask yourself if you were your child, would you look forward to your family meetings? Would you feel respected and supported? If not, you may need to reexamine your approach and ensure that the basics of a healthy relationship are the hallmark of your meetings: respect, support, reciprocity, and collaboration.
Jessica Martin, Ed. S., NCSP
RVA School Psychologist & Director of Special Education and Pupil ServicesInformation for this article was derived from the book How To Hug a Porcupine by Julie A. Ross