Family meetings are
important because they:
Bring people together on a
regular basis to participate in family decision making and problem solving.
Reinforce the leadership roles
and effective co-parenting.
Introduce structure over chaos.
Help kids feel secure because they know
someone is in charge.
Provide a forum where expectations,
roles, rules, routines, and rewards/consequences can be spelled out and
revised as necessary.
Provide a forum for voicing concerns and
addressing issues (vs. letting them stew until they explode).
Provide an opportunity for feelings to be
Provide a time when efforts and
contributions are acknowledged.
Provide an opportunity to develop
Build closeness, participation, and a
sense of belonging.
Underscore the importance of the family
unit and your commitment to making it work.
Usually are held weekly.
The time should be the same each week but selected (initially) to be workable
for all concerned. If one member cannot make a meeting, it is up to them to
find a time that will work for all others. If a person fails to attend, they
will be expected to fully support all decisions made in their absence.
Not before or during a
meal. We’re often grouchy before meals. Sometimes the agenda items are too
difficult to manage during the distractions of dining.
duration. Children lose interest quite quickly. Teenagers burn out after 40
or 45 minutes. Longer meetings are OK if everybody wants to continue.
No phone calls, door to
door salespeople, TV, radio, Walk/Discmans or visitors during meeting.
No disrespectful or
profane language or yelling.
The meeting is chaired by
one of the parents; and the “chair” should alternate between the parents. In
time, the kids can cycle through the role of the chairperson.
The meeting follows an
agenda. The agenda is usually developed at the start of the meeting. (Once
the ritual of family meetings has become established, agenda items can be
added to a list posted on the fridge.)
Everyone is asked if they
have any (additional) agenda items at the start of the meeting. Requests can
be made to place particularly important items early on the agenda (otherwise
the chairperson decides the order of the items or its “first come, first
The first item on the
agenda is always “Accolades”. This is a time where everyone in attendance
provides a compliment or expresses thanks or praise to every other member
attending. (For example, Pete begins with: “Bob, I really appreciated the fact
that you helped me clean up the porch on Wednesday. Lynn, your smile when I
came through the door really helped me to turn a miserable mood around.
Katie, I really liked…, etc. Then Bob, in turn, provides his accolades to each
person present. Special contributions or notable efforts should be recognized
at this time too. Note: Accolades are very powerful in setting a
constructive, positive tone for the meetings. They also help us to “open our
ears” so we will be better listeners when we are dealing with issues of
concern later on in the meeting.
When someone “has the
floor”, they should be given ample time to present their item/concern. If
others tend to interrupt, the speaker should be given an object (e.g., a teddy
bear) to hold to signify that they have the floor, and are at liberty to speak
uninterrupted until they pass the teddy bear on to someone else.
If a lot of emotion is
expressed, the presenter should be allowed to continue (rather than being
comforted or challenged regarding the way they are feeling). When they
indicate they have “said their piece”, validate the emotion. For example,
say: “To me, it sounds like you’ve been feeling very lonely; and that you’d
like to have some one-on-one time with your dad whenever he’s in town”. Or,
“You have every right to be angry at your brother, but it’s not OK to hit
him. How could you and he deal with situations like the one that got you so
angry, in a different way?”
Encourage and model the
use of “I messages” rather than “You messages” (which tend to fix blame rather
than fixing the problem).
Once a problem has been
identified, apply a systematic problem solving strategy. Propose trying the
solution out for a week or two to see how well it works. Review its
effectiveness at a family meeting, and revise if necessary.
Keep in mind, kids get a
vote, but not a veto, in family meetings.
Finish the meeting on time, and on a
positive note. A family hug might work as a closing ritual.
Hold your first family meeting. Make sure
you begin with Accolades. The parents should go first to show the others how
it’s done. It’s OK if you don’t deal with any items of real concern during
the first meeting, but it is important to spell out clearly when the meetings
will be held, and how they will be run. It’s also important to end the
meeting on time and on a positive note.
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This document is published by the Stepfamily Foundation of
Alberta. It may be reproduced for personal or
educational use without written permission, provided it is
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Foundation of Alberta