how to host a family meeting

Family Meetings

A lovely reader included this in an email to me recently:

I really liked the idea of your weekly family meeting I was wonder though what sort of topics are brought up at these meetings and if the children bring up issues in your house and if so what sort of issues are they bringing up. I am definitely going to start having family meetings at our house but i just am not sure how to make my 6 & 4 yr olds understand the purpose of having a family meeting.

PURPOSE
Background for those of you who may not have read a previous post on having a family meeting, the purpose of our family meetings are:

  • To provide a communication strategy to deal with contentious issues.
  • To create a forum where all voices are equal.
  • Create a forum to jointly plan activities and areas of home life.
  • To role mode and offer opportunities for the kids to practice decision making, negotiation and problem solving skills.
  • To create a sense of ownership of family decisions.

If I were to repeat the above purpose to my four year old she would probably just stare at me and say that family meetings are for “sharing stories and solving problems”. At its core that is really what we do and Mr Infrastructure and I really try to encourage both the problem solving and the idea generation to come from the children.

We have been successful in obtaining valuable input from the children in these meetings by making sure that our expectations are age appropriate and that all their contributions are respected (no matter how off beat they are!).

PARENT INPUT
I think the best way to introduce small children to family meetings is to role model the types of issues you would like to discuss. We try very hard to keep the meetings positive family interactions and try to avoid them to turning into a “wingefest”. So for the first few meetings, I would suggest that the parents have a couple of positive or fun things to discuss, along with any issues that they may have. Here are some examples of things in this category that I have brought to our family meetings:

  • Acknowledging the children’s support of the time I spent on the 30 Day Challenge.
  • What would they like to do on the school holidays?
  • Ideas on how to celebrate Grand Final Day (Australian Rules Football).
  • Highlighting children’s achievements at the end of the school year.

More serious issues can then be brought up in this positive environment. Mr I and myself have brought up things like:

  • Packing up one game, before going on to another.
  • Leaving food scraps like apple cores around the house.
  • Managing birthday party celebrations.
  • Respecting each others need for private time.

We tend to state the problem and then open the discussion for solutions, leaving our opinions to last. Hopefully we can come to a resolution without the need for too much parent input.

CHILDREN’S INPUT
In terms of what the children bring to the meeting, it is helpful if you have the minutes book easily accessible. We use the back of the minutes book to note down issues that the children may bring to me during the fortnight (we are currently having fortnightly meetings).

This works wonderfully well in two key ways:

  • It places responsibility for resolving the problem on to the child.
  • It stops the complaining as they know it will be addressed seriously at the next family meeting.

There is an amazing range of issues that my children have brought to the family meetings and I have noted some of them below:

  • Thinker wanted to stay up later on school nights.
  • Possum wanted Babaganouski to stop pulling her hair.
  • Little Rascal no longer wanted to have a bath with his younger brother and sister.
  • Little Rascal wanted to make something out of wood.
  • Thinker wanted to be able to get up in the middle of the night and watch the Soccer World Cup.
  • Thinker wanted to go the beach.
  • Possum wanted to see dad’s work.
  • Little Rascal wanted to go fishing.

No doubt any or all of these items could have been solved outside a family meeting and there is certainly times when these types of issues are resolved instantly and amongst only two family members. Part of the point of the family meetings for the younger children is to get them to understand how they work, what they are for and how they should behave in them.

Another reason why the children will tend to wait and bring these issues up in the family meeting is (I think) for the accountability this places on mum and dad to carry out any actions that they are assigned in the meeting. The previous meetings minutes are reviewed at the start of every family meeting, and mum and dad do have to own up to whether or not the task is completed!

Over the years that we have been conducting family meetings, the children start to bring more serious issues to the table and also with them solutions that they have created themselves to propose for the rest of the family to discuss. We now have in place a framework for communicating in the family, that will make managing a house with five adolescents with competing needs much easier. Everyone will understand the process needed to follow to change/adapt/adopt family practices and to share ideas.

CONSENSUS DECISION MAKING
Consensus decision making is key to successful family meetings. Each family member needs to know that their opinion, regardless of their age is considered with the same weight. Through their knowledge of this, they are far more likely to contribute and to carry out the actions of the family meeting.

Good luck with your family meetings, and I hope you find them as useful and helpful as we do!