• Family Meetings Make Discipline Easier.
Children are more likely to follow rules that they helped create.
Children are more likely to accept consequences as fair when they had a hand in determining them.
• Family Meetings Reduce Family Conflict.
By establishing a regular forum where problems can be addressed, family meetings ultimately decrease fights between siblings and between parents and children.
• Family Meetings Get Children Involved in the Running of the House.
Children are more likely to do chores that they choose for themselves.
• Family Meetings Promote the Development of Key Life Skills
Listening, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork are all important qualities that can be further cultivated in the context of family meetings.
• Family Meetings Empower Children.
Including children in family decision-making helps them feel confident and respected.
OK, family meetings are great for families, so how can you start holding family meetings? Here are 5 steps to establishing regular family meetings in your house.
1. Begin with a simple, concrete problem or project.
David and Eleanor Starr – authors of an influential 2009 white paper entitled “Agile Practices for Families: Iterating with Children and Parents” – decided to focus their first family meeting on the current problem of the family’s (4 children and 8 pets) chaotic morning routine. Together, the family created a checklist of morning responsibilities for each child. This reduced family conflict almost immediately. When a child was distracted from getting ready for school, the parents redirected the child to his or her checklist. This replaced nagging, yelling, and arguing.
Almost all families have chaos and stress around getting kids ready for school and out the door in the morning. Creating a morning checklist for each family member is an excellent first project.
Instead of initially starting with problems, some families choose to begin their meetings with something positive, for example planning the next family vacation. Family members brainstorm and create a list of possible destinations. Then, each family member could be assigned the responsibility of researching one of those places.
Another first project could be planning the menu for the week. Most families have struggles getting children to eat the meals that are prepared for them. Organizing a first family meeting around selecting meals and assigning jobs to help with preparing those meals is another excellent place to start.
2. Create a BVC (“Big Visible Chart”).
Creating a record of what has been agreed upon in family meetings is crucial so that family members can refer back to it. According to the Starrs, the information and responsibilities established during a family meeting are best recorded in a “Big Visible Chart” or BVC. A BVC is just what the name suggests. It is a large, visual representation of the outcome of the family meeting that is to be posted in a prominent location in the house.
If, in your meeting, you create a morning routine checklist for the kids, the BVC should contain each person’s check list and spaces to check off the completion of list items for each of the five school days. A vacation planning chart can list the possible vacation spots to be investigated and each family member’s research tasks to be complete that week. For a weekly menu meeting, the dinner menu for each day is listed along with each family member’s responsibilities for the preparation of that meal.
The BVC is a crucial part of ensuring that the agreements made in family meetings are kept. The BVC keeps everyone reminded of what has been agreed to and focused on their responsibilities for the week. It also allows everyone to share in the issue of accountability, rather than leaving it solely with the parents.
3. Have a consistent structure for the meetings.
Each family meeting should follow a consistent agenda. There are 6 essential elements to a problem solving family meeting:
1. Evaluate the success of the previous week’s plan (including how well individual family members fulfilled their commitments).
2. Solicit input regarding what issues are to be addressed at the present meeting.
3. Decide by consensus what issue will be the focus of the present meeting.
4. Brainstorm possible solutions or ideas to address the agreed upon issue.
5. Agree on a plan for the week and assign individual responsibilities.
6. Make the BVC.
The Starrs use the following three questions to capture these 6 elements and to encourage the input of all members:
What things went well in our family this week?
What things could we improve in our family?
What things will you commit to working on this week?
In addition to problem solving, the family meeting is a good time to review the family schedule for the upcoming week, including activities (play dates, sports practices, music lessons, etc…) and school assignments.
Eventually, the hope is that the success of your family meetings will get the kids invested in and attending ongoing meetings. However, in your initial weeks of holding family meetings, it will be important to include additional elements that will make the meetings attractive to kids. The Starrs pay allowance during family meetings. This can be an especially effective incentive to get kids to show up for family meetings.
4. To Realize Your Greatest Hopes, Hold Realistic Expectations
Like most things in parenting, you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run, if you focus on the process rather than on outcomes. There are many ways for an initial family meeting to go wrong. You won’t be able to get your children to the table. You won’t be able to get them to take the problem solving seriously. Your first plans will fall apart practically as soon as you make them.
The important thing is to not get too caught up in how the meeting goes – good or bad. Instead, think about family meetings as a work that is always in progress, that you have to start where you are, and that the goal isn’t perfection.
Keep the first meeting short: 10-15 minutes at the most. End it at the first sign that your kids are losing focus and are no longer able to be constructive. It’s ok to end the first meeting without even coming up with a definite plan for the week. You can continue the discussion at the next week’s meeting. Your main goal for this first meeting is to learn something from the process of trying to have a family meeting that will help you have a better meeting next time. If anything more is accomplished, it’s all gravy.
5. Be persistent
Family meetings can have an enormously positive impact on your family culture, but you might meet a lot of resistance in trying to get them started. Family life is busy and chaotic and it can be a real challenge to carve out the time. Early meetings might be frustrating and produce plans that don’t get fulfilled. The most important tip for successful family meetings is to be persistent in your efforts to establish them as a regular practice in your family. Your efforts will pay off in the long run if you do.