Posted on October 28, 2021 by CHS
A child’s family is their first introduction to being part of a community. Bonds are built and strengthened daily by spending time with one another, sharing positive experiences as a family unit, and having open and honest communication.. Holding family meetings is beneficial to every member of the family unit; however, they are especially beneficial for children. They provide an opportunity for children to build their language skills, engage in critical thinking, learn how to respectfully disagree and negotiate with others, develop empathy, resolve conflicts, and strengthen their resiliency.
Start with Family Meals
Sharing a family meal together at least once a week is a great way to informally check in on one another. Although this can be challenging for families with different work schedules and for those with children participating in after school activities, setting time aside for family meals can provide an opportunity to engage and connect with one another. Before the meal, ask family members to turn off electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets, and the television. The goal is to minimize distractions that might be obstacles to having conversations.
The conversation during the meal can serve as a family meeting. Start by asking everyone to share one positive thing that happened that week. Then ask everyone to share one challenge they had that week. Invite everyone to share ideas of how to overcome each challenge. End by asking everyone to share what they are looking forward to during the next week. These conversations during shared meals allow family members to feel valued and supported by members of their community.
These conversations may lead to topics that feel uncomfortable to talk about, but it is important for children to recognize and understand that their first and most reliable source of information is their family. Remember to keep an open mind, listen carefully, and respond to questions honestly and without judgement. It is also okay to say, “I don’t know, but we can find out together,” and then do research with the help of a public librarian or other trusted resource. Keep answers simple, age-appropriate, and be prepared for children to ask follow-up questions.
Try a Formal Meeting
Once everyone has an opportunity to enjoy a family meal together and informally check in on one another, try a formal family meeting. Set aside thirty minutes once a week, or at least once a month, for a family meeting. Create a set agenda, or open-ended list of topics to discuss. At the first family meeting, explain what an agenda is and that it will be posted in a shared space, such as the refrigerator, for ideas to be added on to it. A sample agenda could include the following:
- Opening the family meeting: use an inspirational quote or deep breathing exercise to set the tone for the meeting.
- Taking a moment to appreciate each other: each person can take a turn complimenting another family member for something they noticed that week, such as helping a younger sibling with homework, or cleaning up without being asked.
- Checking in and solving problems: take turns sharing what worked well that week, and what is still a challenge. Even if the solution seems simple, ask everyone for their input and vote on a plan of action. For example, “our idea to have backpacks ready by the door each night is helping us be on time in the morning. How can we work on remembering to put lunches in the backpacks?”
- Making plans: assign responsibilities for chores, discuss upcoming events, or discuss other upcoming household projects, such as items to be repaired in the home or saving money for a family vacation. Discussing finances with children in an age-appropriate manner helps them develop financial literacy and learn to budget money.
- Closing with something fun: end the meeting by doing something fun together, such as telling a family story, singing a song, dancing, or reading a book together.
It is helpful to set consistent ground rules or agreements for family meetings, such as putting electronics away, or establishing that only one person talks at a time in order to avoid interruptions and practice respectful turn-taking. Choose an object such as a spatula or ruler to be a “talking stick.” The speaker holds the “talking stick” while they are speaking, and passes it to the next person when they are done. Other ground rules might include raising a hand to indicate a need to speak, agreeing to pause discussion on a topic if it creates an argument, or using kind words when speaking to each other.
Starting family meetings while children are young will help build trust and keep the lines of communication open when children become teenagers and young adults. There are several different ways to do family meetings, but finding the method that works best for your family is what matters most. The articles and resources below explore ways to encourage good communication, plan family meeting agendas, hold successful meetings, and enjoy fun activities together.
References and Resources:
- Communication: Positive Communication with Your Child brochure by CHS
- Family Meetings Can Be Fun, Productive, and Meaningful
- Family Time: Keeping Family a Priority brochure by CHS
- How to Hold a Successful Family Meeting by VeryWell Family
- The Family Dinner Project website has conversation starters and activities