It’s no surprise that social, emotional, and physical well-being of children is linked to family functioning. We all want what’s best for our kids, though at times it can difficult to know the “right” way to parent. While there is not correct way to parent, one strategy that tends to be useful for families is implementing a family meeting into their routine. Families who are struggling with conflict can find this especially helpful, but this technique can also be used by families who simply want to check in with one another and take some time to connect as a family.
Use the following guidelines to get you started.
No technology. That means you too, parents! Oftentimes I see parents implementing this rule with their kids, but don’t follow it themselves. If you want your child to follow the rules, that means you should too. Time away from phones and other screens is important during a family meeting, because it allows each person to fully be present in interacting with the family.
Make sure everyone is heard. No matter what age your child is, it’s important that they feel heard. If they have something to say, take the time to listen closely to what they are saying. If you have multiple children, ensure that each child gets a turn to speak without interruptions. By doing this, you’re creating a space where children learn how to verbally express their feelings and opinions. Listening closely to them conveys the message that they have exciting, imaginative ideas, which boosts self-worth in children.
Establish guidelines for the meetings. Even though family meetings can be quite informal, it’s still a good idea to set some guidelines. For example, how long will family meetings last? Will there be a list of topics you want to discuss, or will each meeting be more freeform? How often will the family meetings take place? Once a week, once a month? How should you manage your time together?
Everyone gets a say in the topics of discussion. Your kids will to tell you what they want to talk about, and you should do the same. The topics they bring to the table will highlight their interests and identities as individuals. Additionally, when kids know more about their parents’ values, they often feel more connected to them, more confident in expressing their own ideas, and more able to meet challenges. While parents are still in charge of the meeting and topics of discussion, children’s ideas and opinions need to be expressed, heard, and respected.
Know when to take a time out. Sometimes, important discussions get heated. Family meetings are a great platform to discuss touchy subjects because everyone can be mentally prepared in advance. It’s much easier to keep your cool when you know a sensitive subject is coming up, rather than if it just pops up out of the blue. Yet, there are times when our passion can get the best of us. If the meeting devolves into a shouting match, know when to call a time out in the family meeting. Talk a break and some time apart, and revisit the subject in a few hours or the next day. Don’t force a meeting to continue when it’s not productive.
There’s no right or wrong way to have a family meeting. If you’re making time and effort to connect with your loved ones, that already puts you at an advantage. It’s important for your partner and children to know you care and are interested in their lives, so informal family meetings can be helpful. Of course, the meetings can be as informal or structured as you’d like, so be creative and find what works with your unique family.
Some families may find it difficult to figure out the logistics of a routine family meeting, but it will become much easier if you stick with it and develop a habit out of it. Talk about money, talk about what went well the previous meeting and what was a flop. Talk about recent family changes and hope for changes in the future. Rich family conversations cultivate deeper connection and foster a sense of closeness within the family. Differences of opinion on certain ideas will inevitably occur, but working through them as a family unit will develop skills that will help you persevere through any conflict life may throw at you.