Family meetings build connection and closeness, teach kids life skills, and can be parents’ secret tool to encourage kids to be more cooperative. Here’s everything you need to know to start and run a successful family meeting.
“We agreed upon it at our family meeting,” my friend explained when I asked how she gets her kids to clean up their mess.
“If something gets left out, the kids decided that it gets put in a bin we keep in the basement.”
My friend went on to explain that this solution had worked fairly well with a few hiccups along the way.
For the most part, the mess had diminished. But possibly even better, she and her husband no longer had to nag their kids when they needed to clean up. Instead, they would refer to the rule everyone had agreed upon at the family meeting.
I was intrigued.
I could see how getting kids involved in coming up with a solution would make them feel more empowered and responsible to act on it.
Still, I dragged my heels for years on actually launching our own family meeting.
The formality of meeting as a family at a specific time felt like a bit much. And besides, when could we find the time to actually make it happen?
5 proven reasons why family meetings are so effective
After reading more about the benefits of family meetings, I finally moved forward. Now, every Friday evening our family has a quick meeting while we eat our dinner.
Now that I’ve experienced family meetings, I recognize their value even more. The formality, consistency, and regularity of our meetings is actually a benefit. It’s a tool that my husband and I can lean on and that our girls are learning from.
Here’s what I discovered family meetings provide to both parents and kids:
- An opportunity to connect and work as a team: Even if your family is already close, having a specific time each week to collectively talk about family events and issues creates a sense of teamwork that’s difficult to replicate when only a few family members talk.
- A forum to develop and refine family rules and chores: Every family has rules, whether they’re spoken or unspoken. Family rules and assigned chores will feel less impositional to kids if they’re allowed to be involved in the process.
- An opportunity to work through specific issues and problems: Trying to tackle issues between siblings or the family as a whole can be difficult to do in the heat of the moment. Having a specific time each week when everyone can problem-solve together often results in more lasting and equitable solutions.
- Children feel a greater sense of control and power in rules and decisions that govern their lives, which leads to greater cooperation and respect: When children are given the opportunity to become part of the solution, they’re more willing to cooperate than if a decision has been dictated to them.
- The opportunity for children to practice important life and social skills such as communication, problem-solving, negotiation, and collaboration: Sure, children have other opportunities when they can practice these skills, but the consistency and formality of the family meeting creates structure to this instruction that may be lost in the day-to-day.
Tips for where and when to hold meetings
Family meetings are more beneficial if they occur weekly, at a set time and place. That way, any issues that arise over the prior week can be delegated to the regular family meeting.
This is especially beneficial when tensions are high in the heat of the moment. Moving an issue to a family meeting allows for a cool down period so that calmer minds can prevail.
As for when to hold a family meeting: some families may find it practical to hold a family meeting over dinner. However, others might find that their kids can’t focus on eating and discussion at the same time.
If equal treatment is a concern in your family, family members can take turns presiding over the meeting. That person can make sure the family is following the week’s agenda and staying on task. Another family member can take notes during the meeting so that no decisions or plans are forgotten.
Since kids’ attention spans can be limited, it’s good to keep meetings to about twenty to thirty minutes, if possible.
Rules to govern successful meetings
The benefits of family meetings can only be realized if parents, in particular, uphold key rules and norms during the meetings.
The overarching theme of a family meeting is to work together as a family. And getting children involved in solutions to problems and calendar planning creates a buy-in that leads to greater cooperation and teaches kids problem-solving skills.
With that in mind, no solution or outcome of a family meeting should be punitive. Not only does punishment not change the tendency for a child to partake in the punished behavior, it also diminishes the primary goal of family meetings – to work as a team.
Therefore, all family members must agree that every family member:
- Is entitled to express their thoughts and feelings: Kids may have outlandish ideas and expectations regarding rules, chores, or issues facing the family, but they’re still entitled to be heard and understood. Parents can lead kids toward reasonable resolutions by questioning the viability of suggested solutions. Interrupting should never be permitted.
- Is capable of finding solutions to issues and problems: Parents and/or older siblings can’t steamroll children to land at the solution they want. By age four or five, children are developmentally ready to help brainstorm solutions to family problems.
- Must agree to a solution or else it will be tabled: Decisions must be made by consensus to avoid family division. If a solution can’t be agreed upon, it should be tabled until the next meeting.
- Is expected to contribute to the collective good of the family: While the level of contribution may differ (children won’t contribute to the family’s finances, for example) every family member should be expected to participate in family meetings and help with family chores.
One other consideration is where your family will draw the line in terms of when parents make decisions and when the family collectively decides.
For example, parents need to decide whether or not the family moves, acquires a new pet, or purchases an expensive household item. Kids can voice their opinions about these issues but parents will ultimately determine the outcome.
The family meeting agenda
Certain elements should be present on every family meeting agenda. These include:
- Gratitude or compliments: It helps to begin the meeting on a positive note. One way to accomplish this is by having each family member decide if they want to share gratitude from the week or compliment another family member.
- Evaluation of past solutions: Inevitably, some of the solutions decided at family meetings will be successful while others will need refinement. It’s important to keep reviewing what’s working and what’s not.
- Review of that week’s topics/issues: Any issues that arise during the week should be written down in a prominent place. This is the time to go through that list in chronological order and collectively problem-solve solutions. Discussion should begin with the person who wrote down the issue expressing his or her feelings. Next, other family members can discuss the topic and brainstorm solutions. If no solution can be mutually decided upon, the issue should be tabled for the next week.
- Review of calendar and events: It’s helpful to make sure everyone is aware of which events are on the calendar for the coming week. This is also a great time to pick a fun family activity such as playing a board game, going on a hike, or watching a movie together. Hopefully, kids will look forward to this “reward” after time spent reviewing issues.
- (Optional) Meal planning for the week: Some families may find it useful to plan dinners for the coming week during the family meeting. This could include the opportunity for kids to plan and cook one meal a week or take turns every other week.
Ready to run your own family meeting? My Family Meeting Toolkit, is a 10-page PDF with everything you need to get started. Click here or the image below to learn more and pick up your own copy.
Mistakes to avoid
Families should avoid certain things to ensure meetings go smoothly and meet their intended purpose: to bring the family together as a team to work through issues and challenges.
These are a few of the things parents should steer clear of during family meetings:
- Lecturing instead of discussing: It can be very easy for parents to fall into lecture mode. With good intentions we want our kids to understand what we know. But lecturing doesn’t engage kids’ brains the way brainstorming and problem-solving does. So if we really want our children to learn and understand, getting them to think for themselves will be far more effective.
- Taking punitive action against kids: Punishing kids for wrong doing, even under the guise of consequences, only causes kids to suffer. It doesn’t teach them better behavior. Punishment can also cause children to develop revengeful feelings or to think poorly of themselves. Helping kids problem-solve solutions leads to real learning. Click here if you’re uncertain what constitutes punishment.
- Letting one child (or adult!) dominate the discussion: The idea behind using a family meeting to come up with solutions is to let everyone’s voice be heard. That’s difficult to accomplish if one child or a parent dominates the conversation.
- Straying too far off topic: You may find your children getting very silly when trying to come up with solutions. That’s fine. After all, the tone of the meeting should be light and at least somewhat fun. But getting too far off topic can derail the meeting. Reminding kids that a fun activity (such as playing a board game) will occur after the meeting can encourage them to focus.
- Ending up in an argument instead of a discussion: If siblings are more familiar with arguing than problem-solving together, it’s necessary to coach them on the best ways to get their point of view across constructively. Remember, even though it isn’t easy and takes ample patience, your kids will learn valuable life skills with your guidance.
- Giving up too soon on family meetings: It can take many weeks for all family members to feel comfortable and accepting of family meetings. It can take lots of practice for family meetings to become as fruitful as they’re intended. Don’t give up too soon. While it may take up-front work and patience, family meetings can be one of the best parenting tools in your toolkit to build connection, open communication, and mutual respect in your family.
Seeing the fruits of meeting as a family
Every Friday evening now we have our family meeting right after dinner.
As the meetings have become more regular and normal, I’ve noticed improvements in our family dynamic.
It took a while for us to get here. That first meeting was awkward and felt a bit like unchartered territory. No one knew what to expect or how to act.
The girls got silly. I became flustered, and we didn’t get to every item on the list.
But as the meetings have become more regular and normal, we’ve seen a change.
Here’s what we’ve gained as a family:
- We’ve come up with a system for how to deal with dirty dishes in the kitchen. It isn’t flawless but it’s better than having to constantly nag the girls to put their dishes away.
- The family meeting has been an instant solution to calm down sibling disputes. As tensions rise, we can simply suggest that the issue be discussed at the next family meeting where a calmer discussion can occur.
- It’s been helpful to have everyone together as we review and plan our weekend and the coming week. No longer does one child feel like she’s unaware of planned activities. This also allows us to be more deliberate with planning family outings and activities.
Getting started with family meetings is half the battle. Give everyone in your family plenty of warning about the day and time of your first meeting. Then, set an alarm on your phone so you don’t forget, and on the day of, jump right in. You’ll be happy you did.
Kerry Flatley is the owner and author of Self-Sufficient Kids. She’s a certified positive discipline parent educator and the mother of two girls. In addition to this training, Kerry has read numerous books and articles about how to raise strong, independent kids and put these ideas into practice with her own children. Kerry also holds a BA in economics, an MBA, and a certificate in financial planning.