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November 2004
Family Meetings

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

Open communication is one of the keys to healthy relationships. From the oldest member of the family to the very youngest, everyone deserves being treated with respect. When we know we’re respected, we are more willing to share our thoughts and feelings. 

"Regular family meetings offer golden opportunities for you and your children to learn more about each other, to become better listeners, to learn the art of compromise and to re-affirm your ability to help one another resolve problems."

Respectful communication is effective communication – it helps you and everyone in your family express your needs and work together toward getting those needs met.

When people don’t treat each other with respect (either by choice or out of bad habits that have begun to feel like “normal” behavior) communication becomes much more difficult. This is especially true between parents and teens.

Sometimes the conflicts you have with your sons and daughters (and the conflicts they have with each other) cover all-too-familiar territory. (“We’ve having this same old argument again?!”) When problems don’t get resolved cleanly as they crop up, they may turn into boomerang issues (they just keep coming back). When that happens, the home can become a constant battlefield and the relationships between family members break down - nobody feels listened to, and, in the case of teens, they will often choose to just stop trying to be heard.

The way to get off of this treadmill is by getting into a new routine (one that can be habit-forming in a positive way)… start holding family meetings.

A Family Meeting Plan

Step #1: Schedule the Meeting. Pick a time that works for everyone. As a family you can decide to hold regularly scheduled meetings. Also, anyone in the family should have the right to call a family meeting at any time.

Step #2: Create Ground Rules.

  1. 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 without fear that anyone will interrupt, and if anyone does the speaker can say, “Excuse me, but I have the talking stick!”

    In our family, when our kids were younger, we used a wooden spoon for this purpose. Now that they are 19 and 25, we’ve retired the spoon and can easily talk and listen to each other (see what good habits can yield?).
  2. Listen attentively without interrupting, invalidating, or contradicting the speaker. This also shows respect and will help build trust in all directions.
  3. Stick to the topic at hand. Don’t bring up past problems. It only adds to the emotion and conflict. Stay focused on the present issues.
  4. Use “I messages.” Say things like “I feel like it’s time for you to take more responsibility for helping the house run smoothly.” OR “I feel sad and frustrated when you and your brother fight with each other.” When each speaker focuses on his/her own feelings, listeners are less likely to feel attacked because no one’s being blamed for anything. Speaking of blame…
  5. Avoid words like “You always” or “You never.” When you start blaming, accusing and putting people down, they usually stop listening and start defending themselves. This never helps to resolve a problem – and may create new ones.

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. And still other families are used to talking about the day’s issues during dinner every night, instead of during scheduled meetings. It doesn’t really matter how your family gets together to talk – the important thing is to get in the habit of communicating openly and sharing your feelings, listening to what other people have to say, and working together to resolve problems successfully.

Got a parent-teen problem you need help with?

Click here to Ask Annie


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