A Family Meeting Plan
by Annie Fox, M.Ed
Family meetings offer golden opportunities for you and your kids to connect more deeply, to become better listeners, to learn the art of compromise and to validate your collective ability to work together to resolve problems.
Step #1: Schedule the Meeting. Pick a time that works for everyone. As a family you can decide to hold regularly scheduled meetings. In addition, anyone in the family should have the right to call a family meeting at any time.
Step #2: Create Ground Rules, Take Turns Talking. To highlight respect for the person who is speaking, your family may choose to pass an object of some sort – also known as “the talking stick”. The current speaker holds on to it until he/she is finished. If anyone interrupts the speaker can calmly say, “Excuse me, but I have the talking stick.” When our own kids were younger, we used a wooden spoon for this purpose. Now that they’re adults, we can easily talk and listen to each other. (See how good habits take hold?)
Step #3: Talking and Listening
- Listen attentively without interrupting. Same goes for invalidating, or contradicting the speaker. A family meeting needs to be a “safe” place to talk about feelings. That can only happen when we really listen. This helps build trust in all directions.
- Stick to the topic at hand. Don’t bring up past problems. It only adds to the emotion and the need to defend oneself. It also undermines the feeling of safety and does nothing to help resolve the current conflict. Stay focused in present time.
- Stick to your own feelings. Use “I messages.” Say things like “I feel ________ when you __________.” As in: “I feel frustrated when you don’t do your chores.” OR “I feel scared when you and dad yell at each other.” When each speaker focuses on his/her own feelings, listeners are less likely to feel attacked because no one’s blaming them for anything. Speaking of blame…
- Avoid words like “You always…” or “You never...” When you start accusing and putting people down, they usually stop listening and counter-attack. This never helps resolve problems and has no place in a family meeting. (Or any healthy relationship for that matter).
Some families only call family meetings when there’s a major issue to discuss. Other families like to hold meetings on a regular basis to “clear the air” and give everyone a chance to speak their mind. Still other families have a tradition of a “go around” at the dinner table, where everyone weighs in on the challenges and successes of the day. It doesn’t really matter how or when your family gets together to talk – the important thing is that you communicate openly and share your feelings, listening to what others have to say, and working together to resolve problems together as a family.