If your family is struggling with behavioral issues, bad habits, overly stressful routines, lack of bonding time, or barriers to communication…well, you’re just a regular family! No family is perfect, but some families are able to act as more of a team to solve problems together.
One key to achieving this team dynamic is holding regular family meetings. You might be thinking, Who has time for that? or, Will my child be able to pay attention during a meeting? or even, Won’t it just turn into more disagreements? But if you take the time to learn the true purpose of family meetings and what they can accomplish, you’ll be inspired to get one slotted into your busy schedule.
The benefits of family meetings
The purpose of family meetings is to share control and responsibility in the family by letting everyone be a part of decision-making processes. That doesn’t mean giving up all of the rules and boundaries that you’ve established — it means coming to a better shared understanding and agreement on rules and boundaries.
Family meetings can help you troubleshoot and resolve all sorts of large and small problems, such as:
- Stressful/chaotic morning or bedtime routines
- Battles over screen time and devices
- Messes in the house
- Whining, complaining, nagging, or yelling
- Unequal division of labor
- Communication issues
- Homework habits
- Hurt feelings
- Disagreements about curfews or other rules
- Lack of follow-through on previous family plans
- What to have for dinner that everyone will actually eat
- Conflicts related to school, neighborhood, etc.
Besides solving specific problems, there are many other benefits and learning opportunities for kids and adults that can come with regular family meetings, including:
- Improved communication skills, including expressing emotions in productive ways
- Improved listening skills
- Mutual respect and appreciation
- Better cooperation and teamwork
- Improved conflict resolution skills
- A sense of belonging and of being truly heard and seen
- Learning from mistakes in a supportive environment
- Family bonding and shared memories
- A safe space to bring disagreements, thoughts, and important information in the future
- More equal/fair distribution of responsibilities and duties
How to hold an effective family meeting
You’ll need to do a bit of preparation to make sure the family meeting doesn’t just turn into another argument or chaotic moment when people are not fully present. Follow these guidelines for a meaningful, productive, and fun family meeting that kids (and you!) will come to look forward to.
- Establish ground rules: Consider rules such as: no phones/screens, listening when someone is talking (if your kids need help with this, you can use an object like a “talking cup” to pass around, with the rule that only the person holding the object can talk), not blaming or insulting each other, and using “I” statements. Kids are often used to discussing ground rules in classrooms and may have their own great ideas.
- Create a routine or ritual: It could be as simple as setting up a special snack together or having each family member “sign in” by coloring in their names on a whiteboard. But adding some sort of easy routine to the meeting will help everyone feel like they can participate.
- Start with positives: Don’t just hold a family meeting to bring up problems. Take the time at the beginning of each meeting to give specific “thank you”s to each other, and shout out any positive efforts and achievements.
- Discuss schedules: Bring up any changes to the routine in the coming week/month, special events and plans, important news, etc. so that everyone is on the same page.
- Troubleshoot together: Give everyone the opportunity to bring up any problems that need to be discussed. It could be anything from a personal problem someone needs advice on, to a recurring conflict in the house, to a family routine that isn’t working for someone. Then brainstorm solutions together.
- Listen to each other: A family meeting is not a place for parents to lay down the rules; instead, it’s a place to truly listen to how each family member feels and to take their ideas seriously. Parents need to be open to constructive criticism as well. Discuss having a judgment-free zone so that no one feels alienated.
- Don’t force anyone to talk: While everyone should be given a chance to speak, not everyone has to speak. But by listening to how others communicate in the group, and by being given the opportunity to share opinions and solutions, kids (and adults) will learn, grow, and consider how they can participate when they are ready.
- Leave space for fun stuff: Doing something fun at the end provides an incentive to participate in the meeting, and also solidifies your team spirit as a family. Perhaps you could take turns presenting a fascinating topic, proposing a family outing, telling jokes, playing a board game, or showing each other funny videos. What you decide to add will depend on your family’s interests and personalities.
- Keep each other accountable: After everyone in the family agrees to a new house rule or procedure, come up with a system for gently nudging each other to keep those promises — adults included. Remind everyone that you’re all in it together and that no one needs to be shamed or blamed.
When are kids ready for family meetings?
Not sure if your child is old enough to really understand and participate in family meetings? Consider that kids as young as four years old can probably really “get” the point of the meeting, and kids of all ages can benefit from having a designated space to use their voice and problem-solving abilities.
Remember that even preschoolers and kindergarteners are probably used to having short “morning meetings” or “circle time” at school or daycare, where teachers introduce what will be happening that day and students have the opportunity to speak or participate in some way.
For younger children, keep the meetings shorter and simpler, and don’t expect them to be able to participate in the same way that older children can — but still make sure you are open to their opinions when they do choose to share! Even if little kids want to stay for a few minutes in the beginning and then wander off to play, and come back for a closing ritual, they can still gain something from the experience.
Some parents might opt for shorter, more frequent meetings — even daily morning meetings — instead of longer weekly or monthly family meetings, to discuss the expectations for the day. The meetings can last just 5 minutes or less with preschoolers, or up to 10 or 15 minutes with elementary schoolers.
Once kids are mature enough to follow meeting procedures, they may want to take turns leading or facilitating the meeting. This helps them feel a true sense of belonging and ownership over the process, as well as giving them practice with leadership skills. You can also create other roles appropriate for their ages and abilities, such as snack server, note taker, or time manager.