Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD
One of the most treasured books in my library is the collection of notes we took at family meetings. It is an archive of family history. To some it might look like a list of problems: the kids grieving about something that we did as parents, the problem of how chores would get done (over and over again), or one kid complaining his or her sibling. But what I see when I look at the book is handwriting that grows up, art that the scribe put on the page while they were patiently waiting for the meeting to proceed and a story of how our family learned to live together using meetings as a regular routine: a small sanctuary in our life to share genuine appreciations, to celebrate, plan, and solve problems respectfully.
I won’t claim that my kids loved family meetings. As teenagers there were regular protestations over this kind of weird thing our family did. On the other hand, they would come home from visiting friends and say things like, “That family needs family meetings.”
Why have them? Because the regular routine of family meetings creates connection, a sense of family and teaches problem solving, courage, resilience, responsibility, conflict skills. Family meetings give your children a voice and teach everyone accountability.
What does it look like? A family meeting is a regular (once a week) gathering of the family that follows a regular format.:
Compliments- Each person gives everyone including themselves a compliment.
Problem Solving- The family finds solutions to problems listed on the agenda in advance.
Planning- This involves planning some kind of fun family activity and in our family also involved meal planning and reviewing the events of the coming week.
Are you willing to try? The key to getting started is taking one step at a time. When you first start family meetings start them with one purpose: to learn how to have family meetings. If parents try to teach family meetings and try to get problems solved right away, kids will see family meetings as just another way parents have of manipulating them. You’ve waited a long time to solve these problems. You can wait a few more weeks until your family learns how to do family meetings.
Step 1. Compliments. Eventually you will start each family meeting with each person complimenting or expressing an appreciation for each family member. Compliments set a positive tone and help everyone remember the good things about the week. A compliment or an appreciation is a simple statement like: “I would like to compliment Sara for helping me with my homework yesterday.” Or “Thank you for going on a bike ride with me.” The appropriate response to a compliment is, “Thank you.” Giving compliments may not come naturally at first so parents may need to teach and model compliments.
Hints for compliments:
• If someone cannot think of a compliment for another family member encourage him or her to ask the family member what he or she would like to be complimented for.
• If a parent (or other family member) senses that a compliment is a jab disguised as a compliment ask the compliment giver to rephrase the compliment so it is helpful not hurtful.
Practice: Once a week (or more often for practice), at a family meal, have each person compliment every other person in the family and share something about themselves that they would like to acknowledge.
Next week: Kicking it up a notch by planning family activities together.
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