5 Steps to Establishing a Routine of Weekly Family Meetings

family meetingThe benefits of Family Meetings far outweigh the hassle. Consider this:

• 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.

5 Tips for Getting Your Son to Talk

You want to be closer to you son, to understand him and his feelings better, but no matter what try you can’t get him to talk to you. Every question you ask gets a one word answer, silence, or an irritated grunt. Here are 5 tested tips for encouraging your son to talk.


1. Drop everything when he approaches you to talk.


It might seem hard to believe, but boys, even those who act the most closed off, will occasionally approach a parent to talk. Unfortunately, these opportunities usually are missed. Most of the time boys will present their desire to talk in disguise. They might begin with a provocative remark: “I hate my sister!” or “You always punish me, but you baby my brother!” or “I got detention today. My teacher is so mean!” These are examples of invitations to talk hidden behind provocations. Our sons use them to test whether we’re really ready to listen. The strong temptation is to respond dismissively with exasperation, logical arguments, or criticism. We’re provoked to feel upset and angry: “Don’t say that about your sister!” We think our son is being irrational and respond with reason: “We treat you both equally. In fact, just this afternoon he got a time out.” We feel embarrassed about our son’s behavior and side with the other person: “What did you do this time?” Each of these responses shut down the conversation before it’s had a chance to start.


If we look past our own reactions, we see that each of these statements actually represents a boy opening up about his strong feelings. If we can stop whatever we’re doing and withhold our initial feelings, we have the chance to learn a lot. Responding to “I hate my sister!” with “oh, … what’s going on?” invites him to tell us more. Responding to “You always punish me, but you baby my brother” with “so you feel we’ve been treating you unfairly?” conveys an acceptance of and openness to his feelings. Responding to “I got detention today. My teacher is so mean!” with “that’s upsetting!” helps the child feel you won’t reject him just because he got into trouble.


When we recognize our children’s expressions of strong feeling as an invitation to grow closer, you’ll end up hearing a lot more about what you son actually thinks and feels.


2. Begin in a low-key manner.


For most boys (and for most men, for that matter) opening up and talking is stressful. Beginning a conversation with “we need to have a talk” or “why did you do … ?” will put a boy immediately on the defensive. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, suggests the following formula for initiating a conversation:
“I’ve noticed ____________ . What’s up?”


For example: “I’ve noticed that you have been having a hard time getting your homework done lately. What’s up?” This low-key question gives the boy a chance to say what he thinks. “Why haven’t you been doing your homework?” makes him feel criticized or in trouble and not open to talking.


It’s ok if your son is silent after you ask him the “what’s up” question. Look for nonverbal signs that he’s thinking. If he looks like a deer in headlights, say something like, “it looks like you’re not ready to talk about this now. That’s ok.” If it looks like he’s thinking about your question, but isn’t saying anything, you can say “I can see you are thinking hard about my question. Thank you. Do you want more time now, or do you want to talk about this later?”


3. Don’t try to make a point.


It’s tempting, when talking with our sons, to make sure that we get our point across. “School is important for your success in life.” “Sometimes we have to deal with difficult people. You have to get used to it.” As important as these and other life lessons are, they are absolute conversation stoppers. When the goal is to hear what your boy thinks and feels, keep your opinions and advice to yourself. He’ll hear them as criticisms, lectures or scolding and clam up.


Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, suggest that if we listen to our children’s feelings carefully enough and accept those feelings, it gives our children space to reflect. More often than not, they will reach these same conclusions about life on their own. Children are much more likely to follow their own conclusions than our advice.


4. Choose quiet, low conflict times to start a conversation.


You’ve just gotten a call from his teacher, or he’s refusing to do his homework. You can feel like there’s no time like the present to deal with the problem. The heat of the moment is actually the worst time to talk. We all (parents and kids) have better conversations when we’re calm. However, for most of us, it’s also our instinct to avoid conflicts when things are peaceful. Sometimes you just have to risk disrupting a quiet time and start a conversation. When things are calm, he’s less likely to be defensive and you are less likely to overreact. As a result, you both are much more likely to learn something in these moments. In fact, as many parents already know, bedtime can be one of the best times for a brief, low key talk.


5. Have Modest Expectations


I encourage parents to have modest expectations when it comes to conversations with their sons. Sometimes you will approach your son to talk and it will go absolutely nowhere. Occasionally, if you are lucky, he’ll tell you a little something. Be ready to end the conversation at the first sign that he’s getting irritated or has said all he’s going to say. In any case, 5 to 10 minutes is about the best you can hope for at one sitting. Instead of thinking about having one big conversation where a problem is settled once and for all, think about having many brief conversations that, taken together, add up to something bigger.


We go far when we remind ourselves that conversations are difficult for boys. Though talking ultimately will draw you closer, initially our sons experience conversations almost always as negative. Be sure to balance your efforts to get him to talk with plenty of affection, encouragement, and fun.

Pope Francis says spanking is OK and why he’s wrong.

Pope-Francis-smiling-warmlyToday, popular Pope Francis appears to have endorsed spanking as an acceptable form of punishing children with some conditions:


“One time, I heard a father say, ‘At times I have to hit my children a bit, but never in the face so as not to humiliate them,’ ” the Pope said. “That’s great,” Francis continued. “He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, and then move on.” USA Today online.


The Pope is not alone, some polls have reported that an astonishing two thirds of Americans believe that spanking children is acceptable.


However, psychological research on the topic of spanking is “very clear and consistent about the negative effects on children,” according to Sandra Graham-Bermann, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.


Spanking is associated with a large number of bad outcomes for children including increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems. Spanking can also lead to escalating physical struggles between parents and children that spiral out of control. According to psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, “Physical punishment doesn’t work to get kids to comply, so parents think they have to keep escalating it. That is why it is so dangerous.”


Many people believe that spanking teaches kids right from wrong, but it actually does the opposite. It teaches kids:


  • Might makes right.
  • Physical aggression is an appropriate way to solve conflicts between people.
  • You don’t need to “use your words.”

Psychologist Alan Kazdin of Yale University points out that spanking is not an effective form of disciplining children. “We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”


There are many alternatives to physical punishment that do work.


See these previous posts:


1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan


The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child by Alan Kazdin.


The Explosive Child by Ross Greene


How to Talk So Kids Will Listen by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.


for guidance on discipline that does not rely on spanking and other forms of physical punishment.



*This post is based in large part on an article that appeared in the APA’s Monitor on Psychology in April of 2012. Click the link to see this article.

The Best Parenting Book: A Review of “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.”



In my roles as a parent and as a psychologist, I have read many books on parenting. My favorite by far (I’ve read it 4 or 5 times) is Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. The book is based on the work of famed child psychologist Haim Ginott, but it presents his ideas in a much more accessible and easy to apply format than Ginott’s own classic parenting book: Between Parent & Child.


How to Talk So Kids Will Listen presents an approach to “getting kids to listen” that assumes there is a “direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave.” Instead of enforcing cooperation through threats, scoldings, bribes, or punishments, authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish believe that helping our children feel better is the best way to get them to behave better.


According Faber and Mazlish, we help our children to feel better by accepting and respecting their feelings. Denying our children’s feelings creates arguments, hostility, and poor cooperation between us and them. A major obstacle to accepting our children’s feelings, for most of us, is that our feelings weren’t accepted and respected as children. Our parenting instincts (derived from our experiences of being parented) frequently lead us unintentionally to deny our children’s feelings even when we’re trying to help them feel better.


While Faber and Mazlish do describe effective strategies for engaging cooperation without yelling, threats, or punishments, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen is actually about much more than just “getting kids to listen.” It presents an overall approach to parenting that is based upon mutual respect in the parent-child relationship. The book is full of specific strategies and skills illustrated by easy to follow examples: Chapter 1 “Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings,” Chapter 2 “Engaging Cooperation,” Chapter 3 “Alternatives to Punishments,” Chapter 4 “Encouraging Autonomy,” Chapter 5 “Praise”, and Chapter 6 “Freeing Children from Playing Roles.”


Faber and Mazlisch believe that parents who demonstrate acceptance, respect and skill in their interactions with their children will raise confident, respectful, independent, responsible, and emotionally intelligent people who know how to resolve differences with others effectively.


Click Image Below to View This Book on Amazon

4 Tips for Ending Homework Battles

Check out my guest post on the Beyond Book Smart blog: From Homework Battles to Self Management: 4 Tips for Parents.