Gathering Together for a Purpose
Every Sunday evening during dessert, a Durham family of four has a family meeting. They compliment each other on positive interactions from the previous week and make plans for the coming week. They act as a team, solving family challenges and focusing on family solutions. Surprisingly, the children involved in these meetings are only 5 and 2, but the Rohrbachs believe family meetings are a positive force in their family and that others can benefit from this communication, too.
Make it a Ritual
“Our basic family meeting follows a fairly routine schedule,” Andrea Rohrbach explains. “Our challenges are not too complex at this point. For example, our family challenge for this week is to pack and prepare for our upcoming vacation.” During that particular meeting, the Rohrbachs planned logistics and discussed a fun activity they all would enjoy.
Holding family meetings on a regular basis helps create an effective meeting environment. If you only talk as a family when there is trouble to discuss, family meetings will be an activity you and your kids dread. “
Most families make the mistake of only calling a family meeting when there is a family crisis. But families really benefit from having a regularly scheduled meeting,” says Dr. Kristen Wynns, a licensed psychologist and mother of two in private practice in Durham.
“One of the beautiful outcomes of family meetings is creating a ritual,” says Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions of Raleigh. “Today, families practice far fewer rituals than they did a generation or two ago.” The Raleigh mother of two and parent educator adds, “For that reason, we recommend that family meetings be held weekly. It gives the family time to emotionally connect, coordinate schedules and have fun together.”
Keep Meetings Short
Families should keep meetings brief, preferably an hour or less, Wynns advises. “It helps to have a time limit to the meetings,” she says.
The psychologist also emphasizes that these meetings should be thought of as an opportunity for positive family interaction. “Parents and children really begin to look forward to these meetings as a way to connect with each other, share concerns or updates and plan upcoming events,” Wynns says.
The Rohrbachs started having family meetings when their son was 1 and their daughter was 4. They knew they had to keep the meetings short and to the point, and that the baby might not be able to participate for the full length of the meeting. Although her 4-year-old immediately responded to the meetings and enjoyed the compliments that are part of their meeting ritual, it took a little more time for their younger child to become involved.
Raleigh mom Linda Riggins says her 5-year-old spearheaded the need for a family meeting last year. The Riggins family now meets several times a month. “
She said her feelings kept getting hurt and we needed a meeting,” Riggins says. “What came out of the meeting was that the children felt they were getting yelled at a lot and had to miss too many birthday parties and [swim opportunities].”
Riggins discovered that her children were disappointed by the family commitments and their overly full schedule. “We talked about how important it is to care for each other’s hurts and that the kids’ feelings do matter. We made a plan to work on balance of time with family and out with others,” she explains.
Starting early provides a good base for family meetings as family members mature, Wynns says. “If parents start having family meetings when their children are young, by the time their children reach the rocky teenage years the teens often look forward to this family time as a source of comfort and connection.”
The Rohrbach’s 2-year-old doesn’t fully participate in their family meetings, but he is involved in family compliments. “I can’t tell you exactly when he chimed in,” Rohrbach says. “But I recall that he was raising his hand to request a turn to give compliments. We let him speak his three-to-five word phrase — ‘Daddy…thank you…play basketball…me’ — which we interpreted as ‘Thank you for playing basketball with me, Daddy’ and were all very respectful of his input,” she adds.
Although the Rohrbach’s youngest rarely stays for the whole meeting, “the dessert helps keep him at the table to start, and then I have coloring or some quiet activity to keep him in the room for as long as possible.”
Respect and the opportunity to share are important to all family members. “Communication is the key to any situation at any age. Effective family meetings are supported by clear communication before, during and after the meeting time,” Riggins says.
Involving every member of the family is important. Assign important tasks (and listener doesn’t count) to each family member. “Everyone has a job,” McCready says. “Even an 18-month-old can be responsible for passing out napkins for a snack.”
She encourages families to rotate jobs among members. “Typical jobs include meeting leader, note taker, snack maker, snack server, activity planner, etc.,” McCready says.
Set Ground Rules
Every family member needs to know what is expected, and it’s also good to know what is not welcome at a family meeting. Wynns’ ground rules include no lectures or reprimands, even if the meeting is being held to discuss a family problem. She also encourages families to get rid of the distractions of television, phones and music.
Don’t Forget the Fun
Fun seems to be a common theme among families with successful meetings. While some families plan formal activities, others are more impromptu. “
If family members are relaxed and respect the right of every family member to express his or her opinion, these meetings can help families be more intimate and positive,” says Wynns. She also encourages families to have a project, puzzle, story or board game to share. The Riggins like to add a family prayer.
McCready believes in incorporating a lighter element in the meeting and ending on a positive note. “All family meetings must end with fun. This can be a family game or, if you are tight on time, it can be as quick and simple as everyone telling a joke,” she says. “The most important thing is that the family is doing something together, enjoying each other and connecting emotionally.”
Robin Whitsell is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chapel Hill. She can be reached at www.robinwhitsell.com.
Family Meeting Basics
Have a clear plan of what you want to accomplish, although it doesn’t have to be a written agenda. Make sure both parents agree.
Start with compliments and praise for the previous week (or month). Consider adding a prayer as well, if that is appropriate for your family.
Be prepared to discuss the plan for the coming week (or month): upcoming activities, family commitments and any potential changes to the schedule.
Allow your children to share opinions and ideas first so they aren’t overly influenced by the parents. Don’t interrupt, but do keep everyone on track.
Discuss a challenge the family is facing. Focus on ways to tackle this together as a team.
End with a fun activity such as a game, joke or sharing a funny story from the previous week.
Dos and Don’ts for Family Meetings
Do make them fun and focus on making family connections.
Do start small and simple.
Do give everyone a job.
Do have food.
Don’t focus on chores or problems, at least not initially.
Don’t give up if the meeting goes poorly. Family meetings get better and better with time.
Source: Positive Parenting Solutions