Now that the summer is winding down and school is around the corner for some and already here for others, there are going to be lots of changes in family dynamics, schedules, and routines. With all the changes, many parents see it best to sit their families down and host a family meeting. Holding a family meeting allows parents to communicate the upcoming changes as well as expectations for each of the children, while giving the children an opportunity to voice their opinions and desires for the new routine.
Family meetings are important and effective when there is going to be a change in schedules but they are also helpful and very beneficial to have on a weekly or monthly basis throughout the school year. Hosting a weekly or monthly family meeting helps to strengthen the family bond, bring everyone closer together, and communicate more effectively. The mutual support and understanding that stems from these meetings brings more harmony, love and respect among members of the family.
Despite family meetings being both important and beneficial, that does not mean they are easy to initiate or host. With everyone’s busy and changing schedules, having the time or ability to have your entire family sit down for a family meeting can be a rare or daunting task. For these reasons, it is crucial to know the best strategies for planning and implementing productive, efficient meetings. Dr. Barton Goldsmith from Psychology Today provides ten key strategies for hosting the best, most beneficial family meeting possible. He reminds readers to remember that all families are unique, so be creative and add or tweak rules as fitted to your family’s needs.
Keep it up-beat. Start the meeting by asking everyone how their week was and the best thing that happened in school. Don’t be afraid to use your sense of humor and laugh together, communication is easier when everyone is having a good time. Try and keep it light whenever possible, especially at the beginning!
Don’t try to control participation. Let everyone in the family join in when they have something to say, but don’t force participation and avoid putting people on the spot. Don’t use the words mandatory or required when asking teens to participate in the meeting, that may cause tension and spoil the atmosphere right from the beginning. Instead, invite them to participate and even if they decline, chances are they will join after a few minutes just to see what they are missing.
Encourage each member of the family to join the meeting. Although it is good to avoid putting family members on the spot, use positive encouragement to try and get everyone to join in and voice their feelings or opinions. If one member is not talking, Dr. Goldsmith suggests using some gentle questioning to get him or her to open up. This can even be as simple as asking, “What was the best thing that happened to you this week?”
Be creative with meeting space. Find a place in your home where everyone is comfortable and everyone can see one another. A kitchen or dining room table is a great spot for meetings. If things may get tense at the house, a fun, public place may be a better location for a meeting- such as a pizza parlor or the local miniature golf course. If you choose a busy, fun location keep in mind that it may be harder to keep family members on track with the conversation.
Give everyone a chance to to lead the meeting. Giving each of the children a chance to lead the conversation and voice their opinions will make them feel validated as well as realize that their think matters. Making each family members’ opinions, thoughts, and feelings important will make everyone leave the meeting feeling happier and like they benefitted from the experience. Also, writing down a list of each members’ contributions as well as the agreed upon goals will be a great way to refer back to the main points of the meeting later on and remember all that was discussed.
Be creative with your agenda. Having some goals set for the meeting ahead of time is important, but being flexible with how the meeting goes is key to making it work. Kids tend to have a low boredom threshold, so if the meeting is too much like school, they make mentally check out halfway through. Some examples of potential family meeting topics include:
- What happened last week
- What happening this week as well as future plans
- Money related issues
- Questions/comments about anything that anyone needs to talk about
End each meeting with a fun experience. Ending the meeting with a fun event will not only encourage everyone to attend and participate, but also make the children more likely to actually look forward to the meetings instead of dread them. Doing something fun also doesn’t need to involve going out of spending money, it can mean a special dessert, a movie night, or a game night. If everyone does want to go out, consider doing something like going bowling, going out for ice-cream, or going to the movies. Plan the experience as a family and remind the kids that if they don’t get to do what they wanted this time, there is always next week. This way, no one will get upset and it provides a lesson for teaching the children about patience.
Help each other resolve any issues. Dr. Goldsmith reminds us that family meetings are purposed as a bonding tool for teaching as well as inspiring everyone that being close as a family is the best thing for everyone concerned. Talk issues out until they are resolved, or at least until everyone politely agrees to disagree. Explaining your decisions to your children and getting support is important in teaching children about fairness and about being a family. Point out areas where there have been difficulties, but don’t be punitive.
Consult a therapist if/when necessary. If you and your spouse are having trouble navigating some of the deeper issues, do not be afraid to consult a professional. Most families struggle with communication sometimes or have moments of difficultly, being comfortable getting advice when needed will make life a lot easier!
Remember that it's never to late to become closer as a family. Dr. Goldsmith saves this one for last to point out that it is critical to never give up on making your family work as a team and that the only way to fail is to not try at all.
Dr. Goldsmith believes that parents have two jobs, to teach their children how to love and to teach them how to live without their parents. He firmly believes that family meetings with help parents to accomplish both of these. According to him, trying for a weekly family meeting will be one of the highest return investments you will ever make!
To maximize effective communication and harmony within the household, consider making a weekly or monthly family meeting your “back to school resolution!”