School projects, soccer practice, music lessons, doctor appointments, two careers, childcare arrangements, carpools, meal preparation, chores, battles over screen-time…family life can be quite stressful. Finding time to connect has become increasingly challenging and instituting a weekly family meeting can help provide a remedy to this seeming chaos.
There are numerous potential benefits of holding family meetings on a regular basis. They provide a wonderful opportunity to solve problems before they fester and grow. Schedules can be coordinated to lead to smoother sailing through the busy week. Children may learn new skills such as planning, conflict resolution, leadership, problem-solving, and communication. Having a valued voice in the family can also help boost self-esteem. This shared time with its own rituals can also contribute to family bonding and cohesiveness, as well as appreciation and gratitude toward others.
So how can you create this routine in your own family? There are many options and you can choose what appeals most but it helps to keep some general ideas in mind. It is advantageous to choose a regular time and structure to establish a habit which will help ensure it actually takes place. Maybe you gather around the family room on Sunday evenings after dinner, or the kitchen table on Saturday mornings. Have everyone, including parents, turn off electronics including cell phones. Consider rotating the leader each week, helping children feel included, valued, and competent. Beginning and ending on a positive note helps to set the right tone and leave everyone feeling hopeful. Family meeting is not meant to be a time for scolding, punishing, or scapegoating. And keep it short, 15-30 minutes so it doesn’t feel like torture.
Here is one way to structure it though feel free to put your own spin on it:
- First, each family member takes a turn sharing his or her favorite part of the week. This is a wonderful opportunity to connect by learning what is important to that person as well as helping them remember and hold onto positive experiences. Maybe someone is proud of a presentation that went well, enjoyed a baseball game or concert, or liked an afternoon at the park.
- Next, discuss any problems or issues anyone wants to share. These can be related to family concerns or anything outside the family. Maybe one of the siblings is teasing another in a hurtful way, Mom is tired of everyone walking in the door and dumping coats and backpacks on the floor, or a child is having a conflict with a teacher. This is a great opportunity to teach problem-solving strategies and you can check back the following week to see how it went.
- Third, take out your calendars and review the schedule for each day that week to include after school activities, appointments, work commitments etc. as well as transportation needs. It can greatly reduce stress for parents and kids to plan in advance and know what to expect rather than to have to scramble to get someone where they need to go at the last minute.
- Last, have each family member take a turn giving every other family member a compliment or thanks for things that happened during the week. Everyone benefits from hearing appreciation and giving compliments is an important social skill. Did someone make an amazing basketball shot at the buzzer, study hard for a test, or bake delicious cookies?
If you think you will have the time, you may want to include sharing a snack or playing a game together after the meeting. Developing your own rituals and inside jokes also adds to the sense of cohesiveness. While some kids, especially teens, may complain about having to participate in family meeting, they will likely come to appreciate at least some aspects of it in the long run. Maybe they will even carry on the tradition.