Feeling some disconnect? Is there underlying family tension? Is the management of household chores lacking? Are big changes coming to the family? How is everyone handling what life is throwing their way? Do we only talk to each other to discuss the next day’s plans?
Or maybe you want to prevent your household from going in 1,000 different directions and losing touch with one another.
You need a family meeting.
The Benefits of a Family Meeting:
- Pause to connect. There’s a lot that may be going on individually. Work, school, friends, extracurriculars, health, the list goes on. It’s easy to disengage and disconnect with one another even though you live in the same home.
- Be on the same page. Meetings ensure that everyone understands the direction the family is moving in. They also help to eliminate misunderstandings and miscommunication.
- Not leave anything to chance. Meetings erase the need for assumptions and statements like, “I thought you were going to do…”
- Coordinate schedules. As families move from season to season, coming together to talk about plans and schedules for an upcoming season can prevent being overextended.
- Children’s Self-Esteem. Meetings make sure that everyone in the family knows they are important. They let every family member know there’s a space for them to be heard.
- Mental and Emotional Check-In. Meetings are an opportunity to observe and share how family members are doing.
- Problem-Solving Skills. Family members learn and practice ways to solve problems together as they see what is modeled in family meetings.
- Sees interconnectedness of family. Meetings allow everyone to see how each person works with and depends on each other.
- If married, talk with your spouse about the need for a family meeting. Tell them what you’d like to discuss.
- Set a time that’s going to work for everyone. Don’t try to squeeze it in 30 minutes before a ballgame. If you have older kids, give a day or two’s notice, but not more. It helps them coordinate with their robust calendar.
- Set a place for the meeting. You may have them all in your living room. You may change it up and have it outside by a fire, at a local ice cream shop, or during a family meal.
The Family Meeting
- Introduce the reason for the meeting.
- Have a Brief Activity such as pulling a question from a question jar. There’s value in getting everyone involved, laughing, and talking at the very beginning. You can find great family questions here and here.
- Introduce topic. Be mindful of how you approach the topic. Is this a topic for discussion, disseminating information, and making decisions? Is it about solving problems or hearing everyone’s thoughts? Whatever the topic, try not to lecture.
- Leave room for questions and feedback. Be sure to give everyone an opportunity to share their feelings about the matter and its conclusion.
- End with something fun. (Game, movie, ice cream, karaoke, etc.)
- Over the next couple of days, ask family members individually what they thought of the family meeting. (They may have more thoughts they didn’t express during the meeting.)
- Proactively address any action items that result from the meeting.
Reasons to Call a Meeting
- Family Conflict. Siblings aren’t getting along (more than usual).
- Celebrate. A family or individual milestone, an accomplishment, demonstration of a family value, paying off a loan, etc. (Don’t use family meetings for birthdays or holidays.)
- Transition. New home, new job, new schools, new person moving in or coming to visit.
- Changes in family routines and schedules. New season of gymnastics, scouts, soccer, and piano lessons. Discuss meal and night routines when everyone will be getting home later.
- Check in emotionally and mentally. (Your kids may “show” more than “tell.”)
- Family values. Introducing values, noticing behavior that isn’t consistent with family values.
- Family Lifestyle Changes. Moving to healthier eating habits, money-saving practices, altering rules about electronics.
- New family initiatives. Eating meals together, being more generous as a family, implementing a movie night, game night, etc.
- Family Rally for Support/Encouragement. Supporting a family member dealing with health issues, job or school stresses, or working to accomplish a difficult task such as running a long distance race, etc.
Rules & Tips
- Be Purposeful. Have specific topics for family meetings that are important to the entire family. Do not over schedule family meetings. Some things are one-on-one conversations. Others don’t require much conversation.
- Quiet children may need a prompt to share. If someone isn’t talking at all, ask them, “What are you thinking?” or “What do you think is best?”
- Meeting Length: 20-30 minutes for families with children under 12. Can extend to 45 minutes with teens if they are engaged and are keeping the conversation going.
- Family meetings often start the conversation. Children may think about it more later and share in the days after. Be open and sensitive to opportunities to listen to their thoughts after the meeting.
- No electronics during the meeting—phones away!
- Calm tone by the parent. (Kids take their emotional cues from their parents). Display the emotions that you want your kids to have about given topics.
- Don’t use this time to single out a child’s negative behavior. (They’ll begin to dread family meetings if you do.)
- Teach and practice listening without interrupting. If you model it as a parent, you can set the tone to help your children follow the same practice.
- Don’t let the family meetings get into a rut. (Change location. Keep it fresh. Call a meeting simply to celebrate an accomplishment.)
- Look for opportunities to allow your child to lead a family meeting, too. (And discuss with them the end goal and then give them freedom to lead responsibly. Teaches them healthy communication, leadership, empathy, and problem-solving skills.)
Your family meetings may initially get resistance from your children and maybe even your spouse. That’s ok.
People often don’t see the value in them until they experience the unity, increased communication, and connectedness that result from them. The meetings can help your family navigate through challenging situations. Additionally, they can provide anticipation for celebrating unique accomplishments. They can become a family staple that provides your children with some predictability in an extremely unpredictable world.