Enter the family meeting.
The family meeting is the answer to all kinds of questions, particularly when it comes to carpools, activities, chores, and rules. But arguably more important than checking off agenda items are the intangibles the family meeting provides.
Vicki Hoefle, parent educator and author of “Duct Tape Parenting”, says family meetings promote children’s independence, allowing them to voice their concerns and to help solve conflicts.
For example, the family meeting is a time when a child can say she’s annoyed when her little sister takes her stuff without asking. Subsequently, both siblings can collaborate on a solution to this problem. Instead of having a parent dictate a solution that may or may not feel fair, both siblings are invested in a solution on which they’ve collaborated.
Additionally, participating in a family meeting gives kids the chance to practice communicating clearly and respectfully – a valuable skill they’ll bring to all their future relationships. If your family needs a nudge, the mindfulness journal and digital memory book app, Soulments, can provide natural conversation starters.
When and how frequently family meetings occur depend on your goals. While most experts agree a weekly meeting is optimal, there’s also room for daily and annual meetings. Regardless of frequency, Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, PCC, parenting coach and co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, offers tips for keeping them fresh and engaging:
- Formalize your meetings by calling them to order, which can feel both important and fun for kids
- Keep a family meeting notebook with a rotating scribe
- Maintain an open agenda that anyone can write on all week in a shared space
- Keep the meetings short
- Ensure they are collaborative – in other words, avoid talking at your kids.
Weekly Family Meeting
According to Hoefle, the weekly family meeting is an invaluable opportunity for families to show appreciation, distribute chores, give all family members a chance to bring up concerns and create solutions, and to give allowance. Not only is Hoefle confident that families can accomplish all of this in one sitting, but she says it takes only 15 minutes per week.
Sara Goldstein, an editor at Parent Co. and mother of two, swears by Hoefle’s simple formula for the weekly family meeting. Though she admits it felt awkward at first, the weekly family meeting has become a staple in Goldstein’s household. She shares custody with her kids’ dad, so the weekly meeting has become essential for checking in on schedules. She also appreciates being able to save conflict resolution for the meeting, rather than feeling pressure to continually settle sibling disputes on the spot.
Family meetings have offered some unexpected benefits for Goldstein as well. She described one that took place when her father was visiting: “My dad and I have never been close. But there we were, going around the table and expressing our gratitudes, and my dad was crying during his turn. I’d literally seen him cry once in my whole life. I was blown away.”
The annual meeting is a time to take a bird’s eye view, evaluating the prior year and determining which goals, trips, and “bucket list” items your family will tackle in the coming year. Sean Grover, psychotherapist, author, and parenting expert says “[The annual family meeting] is a wonderful model for children who crave structure when it comes to processing life events.”
Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, PCC, parenting coach and co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, recommends holding it at the start of the year. Whether it’s January first or the beginning of the school year, what matters is that you take stock of what went well over the past year and what you want to accomplish in the year ahead.
Taylor-Klaus suggests kicking it off by acknowledging celebrations from last year. Families may then want to brainstorm future trip ideas or other highly anticipated events. Soulments is a great tool for capturing everyone’s thoughts – especially the fun and fleeting kind – and will keep your discussions safe and private.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Taylor-Klaus suggests families select something to work on together in the coming year. She stresses focusing on the desired outcome rather than the problem. Instead of talking about the irritation of being late to school, for example, discuss what changes need to be made in order to leave the house earlier.
Taylor-Klaus sees the annual meeting as a time for planning as well as a time for introspection. She recalls, “In our family, our kids were asked to think about one academic related goal each year, one physical goal, and one for personal improvement. Of course, we adults tried to model the behavior by setting intentions for ourselves, as well.”
While it might be unrealistic to hold a structured family meeting on a daily basis, for many families, some form of meeting happens at the dinner table anyway. An informal gathering over a meal can be the perfect time to exchange details regarding schedules and logistics. It’s also a great opportunity to share daily challenges and accomplishments.
That said, experts agree, one of the primary benefits of a regular family dinner is the social one. Michelle LaRowe, International Nanny of the Year and author, says family dinners “reinforce the importance of the family unit and the support that comes with being part of it.”
Lisa MacQueen, a clinical behaviorist who spent years working with families, agrees. MacQueen says the “agenda items” items are secondary to the stability and sense of routine that family dinner, or any regular visit time, provides.
No matter how often they happen, family meetings don’t have to be lengthy or complicated. Done correctly, they’re short, simple, and enjoyable, too. Think of them as limitless opportunities for familial connection – that don’t require a WiFi signal.