I don’t know about you, but connecting with my kids on a regular basis seems to be getting harder and harder as they get older. Don’t get me wrong, we have dinner at the table regularly, we talk on the way to school, etc. But sometimes, it feels like we are catching up on things or giving reminders about important dates on the fly. Hardly effective communication.
Several years back, I was on a quest to find ways to strengthen our family. One of the most helpful things that we have implemented was the family meeting. I've actually blogged about this before, but feel that it is such a valuable tool in connecting with your kids that it deserves to be mentioned again.
Now, when most of us hear the phrase “family meeting,” our minds immediately jump to the conclusion that there is some sort of problem that needs to be addressed. Yes, family meetings can be used to address problems, but they can also be used as a way to connect as a family.
I want to use the analogy of a business (again) to explore this point. Most employers have regular staff meetings, right? These meetings are used to discuss what is going well, what things need to be tweaked, upcoming events or changes and to celebrate individual accomplishments not to mention regular team building activities. These are usually done on a monthly basis.
So why don’t we do this as a family?! Maybe some of you out there do and good for you if you are, but most of us (myself included) try to accomplish all this in between trips to the doctor, school, piano practice, and the list goes on and on. Regular family meetings offer a number of benefits:
· Develop a forum for family members to regularly discuss concerns.
· Provide parents an opportunity to address any potential issues affecting the family.
· Offer family members a place to share and celebrate accomplishments
· Build cohesiveness amongst family members and develop the family as a “team.”
· Family meetings establish a consistent opportunity to communicate as a family.
So, how do you go about having your first family meeting? That depends entirely up to you and how structured you want the meeting to be, what you hope to accomplish, etc. Here’s a basic recipe for those who are looking for something a little more structured:
· Find a place to meet. Pick a comfortable place to meet that can accommodate everyone then gather them up. We find that the dining room table works nicely since we usually do some sort of activity as a part of the meeting. Do it in a place that is going to work best for you.
· Explain the purpose. Explain why you are having the family meeting. For example, we told our kids that we wanted to meet on a regular basis to make sure that everyone was happy and healthy and to make sure things were going well for everyone.
· Do a check in. Start it out on a positive note by doing a “check in” with everyone. This is a technique used frequently in group therapy. It is a great way to gauge what kind of mood or day individuals have had. We like to have family members say something great about there day or say something nice that someone has done for them that day.
· Pick a topic to discuss. Meetings are a great way to discuss progress on household rules. They are also a great way to plan family vacations, weekend activities, birthday parties, doing a charitable act as a family or celebrating a major accomplishment such as a long, sought after “A” on a math test.
· Do an activity. You could also use the time to do an activity as a family such as a craft project, play a board game, bake a cake for a loved one or work on the family photo album. A great first time activity is to make a coat of arms. Have your kids decorate a cardboard shield. Gather some old magazines and have them make a collage with pictures of things that are meaningful to your family.
These are just some ideas. The key here is to do what feels comfortable to you as a parent and for your kids. Remember, the goal is ultimately to establish and ongoing way to connect with your kids. Most parents of teens will tell you that this gets more difficult as they get older, however, young kids who experienced family meetings on a regular basis hopefully will continue to be interested in participating as they get older.
Here are just a couple of thoughts on how to keep it fun and
how to maintain order:
· You might want to incorporate a healthy snack into your family meeting. My kids LOVE popcorn, so we often incorporate this into the meeting as a special treat. That is sure to keep them at the table!
· Share the role of moderator. If your kids are older, you can give them the opportunity to be the moderator of the meeting. It might be helpful to write down the topics or activities to be discussed at the meeting for them ahead of time. What a great way for them to develop leadership skills especially for the younger kids. You can learn a lot about your child’s personality by giving them this power!
· If you have a lot of kids or some particularly chatty family members, you may want to use a “talking stick.” Whoever holds the talking stick is the only one who can talk. The other members need to wait until they are given the talking stick to speak. This can be a tough one, but with practice, the kids usually figure out that if they want people to stop talking with they have the stick they have to do the same for others. You can make your own talking stick, buy a wand at a store, use a stick of wood or even a feather. It really doesn’t matter what it is, what is more important is what it represents – respect for the speaker.
If you are looking for additional ideas or more information on family meetings, check out Our Family Meeting Book by Elaine Hightower and Betsy Riley. It is a great resource to keep on hand if you are running out of ways to keep your meetings fresh.
I hope some of you find this information helpful. For those of you who have not yet held a family meeting, I would be interested to hear if you give this a go and how it turned out. I know it has been a valuable tool in keeping our family connected!