Undoubtedly, the most useful practice I have implemented in our home life is holding regular family meetings. I’m not talking about the Brady Bunch kind of meeting that only occurs when someone has broken a vase and tried to glue it back together. I mean consistent weekly meetings that follow a set formula.
I learned about this during a parent education meeting at my daughter’s school, and it seriously changed the whole dynamic at our house. Arguments used to escalate between my daughters (or between my daughters and me), bad behaviors used to repeat themselves over and over again, and planning activities was stressful. Now we have a place to resolve issues and plan what’s best for our family in a healthy, positive, and fun way. We’ve been doing this for almost three years, and it is something that we all look forward to each week.
Here’s how it works, step by step:
Step 1: Keep a running list of agenda items. As issues come up during the week, rather than trying to resolve them in the heat of the moment, add them to the agenda to discuss as a family. Every family member can add to the agenda during the week. Topics range - chores and allowance, healthy snack and lunch requests, vacation planning and borrowing toys and clothes.
I like to include a quote of the week at the top of the agenda that relates to whatever we are focusing on that week. One of my favorites is by Willie Nelson, “When you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you start having positive results.”
For the first family meeting, include creating a list of ‘Rights and Responsibilities’. Together, brainstorm what rights you each have as individuals (right to privacy, right to your own belongings, right to be spoken to with respect, etc.) and what responsibilities you have to one another and as family members (responsibility to be kind, to clean up after yourself, to work together as a team, etc.).
I will tell you that once you put together an agreed upon list of Rights and Responsibilities, 99.9 percent of all arguments can easily be resolved by revisiting that list and asking which rights have been violated and which responsibilities have not been met. Because everyone has already agreed that these are the family guidelines, there is no argument, simply an acknowledgment of where things got off track and what needs to be adjusted (and of course, an apology or two).
Step 2: Structure your meeting the same way each week. Start the meeting with each family member saying something positive about the other family members. Starting off on a positive note makes everyone feel safe and acknowledged for the good work they have done over the past week.
Next, discuss any agenda items that are on your list. Work together as a family to brainstorm solutions. We have used this to create a list of activities that they can choose from instead of watching TV, ways to resolve conflicts that come up, classes they want to take, healthy foods they will eat, vacations they want to go on and play dates they would like to have, to name a few.
One of my favorite things that came out of one of our family meetings was when we were having some challenges around being grateful for what we have. Now, we begin each day with the question, “What are you thankful for today?” It starts us off with an attitude of gratitude and it gives me great insight into what the girls are thinking. By the way, it is also comforting to know that it isn’t about stuff to them. They are thankful for things like the beautiful earth that God created, the books they get to read, their school, teachers and classmates ... and fortunately for their mother!
Finally, on the agenda comes “financial matters.” This includes anything coming up that they may want money for such as book fairs, bake sales, or games. This is also the place to discuss chores and hand out allowance for the week.
Step 3: Do a fun activity together as a family. After the meeting is over, play a game, bake treats, ride bikes, fly kites, or anything else that you can dream up.
Family meetings are a way for all members of the family to express themselves and know that they have been heard. As helpful as they are when my girls are seven and eight, I can only imagine how helpful they will be when they are teenagers!