THE PERKS OF FAMILY MEETINGS
- Family meetings allow for an opportunity where all members can clarify expectations and communicate.
- It also provides everyone involved with an APPROACH to constructively dealing with issues instead of letting them build over time until there is an explosion. Research shows that having an approach reduces our stress response, makes us less reactive and allows us to better manage our emotions.
2. Increase connection
- The rules of the family meeting give everyone a chance to feel like they are being seen, heard and that they matter by giving them a place to share their opinions or experiences.
- When we feel seen and heard, Oxytocin, the attachment hormone is activated. When we feel more connected, we are more likely to give other people the benefit of the doubt, further reducing conflict and building a sense of tribe.
3. Modeling our values
- The things we bring up in the family meetings will reflect our values
- By communicating to others what is most important to us, we teach others how to communicate with us. This modelling has the potential to have a really big impact in family settings because children will learn a new filter (what to look for in the world (see link on survival maps and filters). It is a great way to share and model our values.
- It also models for the kids or others that their opinions matter and they deserve to be listened to, making it more likely they will expect and require this respect from other people in their lives, like friends, partners etc.
FAMILY MEETINGS IN 5 STEPS
1. Start with your family’s motto (the person chairing the meeting will open with it)
- The motto should be short, clear, and give the family a vision to motivate people to contribute. This can also be the reason for having family meetings or a mission statement, for example:
- “We are here because we all have a voice and we want to create a family we want”
- “We are here to love, protect and respect each other”
2. Establish a 20 min maximum
- The average attention span is 10-15 min anyway, so by 20 min you won’t be making much more progress anyway
- You also want to keep it short and sweet to keep it feeling constructive
- Remember that Family Meetings are to address PROCESS ISSUES: ways to make the family run smoother as a unit, things like discussing and/ or implementing new rules, routines, brainstorming what to do about a new issue that surfaced (running out of time for homework, people bickering, how you will decide who walks the dog or does the dishes, increasing chores etc).
- If it looks like you have more than 20 min worth, as a family the first thing to do is to prioritize what is there and agree to delay rest to following week or have an extra family meeting at another agreed upon time.
3. Have an Agenda – I recommend buying a notebook for this and include:
- Anything that needs to be followed up on from previous weeks
- e.g., How did the trial of the new routine go? Are people remembering to flush? Are the chores getting done etc
2. NEW ISSUES
- Any new items that came up through the week, this can include topics brought up by anyone who is part of the “Family”.
- Parents may want to discuss ways to reduce interrupting, or kids may want to discuss the possibility of watching an R rated movie, or getting texting, an outing, how they can earn something etc.
- This is great because if any non-urgent matter comes up during the week, you can just say I will add it to the Family Meeting agenda and that will satisfy most people until then. This is another way it reduces conflict and makes life in general at home nicer. You do actually have to add it to the agenda though for this to work.
4. Invite any other issues to discuss
- It is important to give everyone in the family the chance to bring up any concerns or make any other comments
- It may be helpful to ask everyone what they think has been going well and what they think the family has to work on
- Depending on the ages of the family members, you may get responses like “I think we should eat more ice cream” – which allows for a brief explanation of the family’s value of health or nutrition for example. So there are no silly ideas.
- You may also be surprised by some of what comes up, like: “I am uncomfortable with the new babysitter” (from a 3.5 yo) or “Dad’s been yelling a lot” (from a 10 yo) or “I would like more play dates” (from an 8 yo).
- It is also VERY important that everyone be allowed to do express their concerns without interruption, mocking, or commentaries.
- The parents will need to set the tone of the meetings to ensure and enforce that they remain respectful.
- It may be helpful to discuss and implement a consequence for disrespectful behaviour, e.g., the person is asked to leave the meeting for a period of time (ie. 5 min) and is caught up when they apologize and make restitution upon their return (if it isn’t over already, or if it finished in their absence, a parent or an allocated person can catch them up)
5. Have regularly scheduled meetings (ideally weekly)
- Imagine you are starving, but you know you will get food again in a week. Your experience of starving will be different in that scenario vs when you don’t know when your meal is coming. It is the same idea with Family Meetings. We do a lot better when we know WHEN we will have a chance to deal with issues that are coming up. It goes back to even just having an approach makes a difference.
- Have them, even when there is no crisis, enjoy these meetings and focus on the positives
- The rest of the family will not invest in these if the parents forget, act annoyed by them, are not both on board with them or frequently reschedule them.
- If you want these to be a priority and have all of these benefits, the parents have to make them a priority.
BONUS BASICS– a few things that you can do to make your family meetings even better for the keeners out there!
- Start the meeting with some form of physical contact, like a hug, high fives, shake hands, belly bumps, holding hands or just a hand on the shoulder. We start ours with a 1-2 min holding hands in a circle, and saying why we have family meetings and our motto along with some deep breathing to get present
- Rotate who chairs the meeting, even with the little ones, they just get a co-anchor to help them. This also increases buy in, increases engagement and reinforces the feeling that everyone is able to contribute equally in this setting
- End the meeting on a positive note, like deciding what you will watch on family movie night, praise about how it went or what you want to do together as a family that weekend.
As always we would love to hear from you. Let us know how your family meetings go!