Comment on image: These are my children at a family meeting many years ago. You can see the dollar bills on the loveseat arm — that’s my daughter’s allowance.
I first learned about Family Meetings in 2006 at a small parenting workshop at my kids’ school. I held a corporate job at the time, so the thought of yet another meeting, at home no less, turned me off.
But I tried it anyway. And now, 15 years later, I can say that the Family Meeting has been a game-changer for us.
From Jane Nelsen’s “Positive Discipline,” Family Meetings provide a weekly opportunity to build relationships, ensure solid communication, solve family problems, and develop so many life skills and values that will serve children for life.
The Family Meeting Agenda
Here’s what our weekly agenda looks like.
- Distribute Allowance: In Positive Discipline, allowance is about teaching children money management skills and is not tied to chores. So the greenbacks get passed out every week, no matter what. For more on allowance, go here.
- Compliments, Appreciations, or Gratitude: We start every meeting by intentionally creating a culture of kindness and gratitude. Everyone gives someone else a compliment or appreciation or shares a few things they are grateful for. Sometimes we’ll do an “appreciation pile-on,” where everyone gives one person an appreciation or compliment, and then we move to the next person. There are 5 people in my family so by the end, everyone has received 4 appreciations or compliments.
- Upcoming Week: We’ll review big events coming up, or changes in the usual schedule for example, “piano was canceled this week” or “Mom has an evening business dinner and won’t be here on Thursday night.” We do this so that kids know what to expect, and aren’t shaken by surprises. For a while, we used a whiteboard to highlight major events that week so everyone could see.
- Problem Solving: This is our time to address family challenges like following through with jobs, getting out the door on time in the morning, or even figuring out who will cook dinner on which night that week. Someone brings up a problem, everyone shares how they feel about it, and then we brainstorm solutions that will work for the whole family. We write our agreements down in our Family Meeting Binder so we can check in the following week to see how we’re doing. We’ll only take one problem per meeting (or two, max, if they’re quick) and sometimes there are no problems on the agenda. For an example of family problem-solving, read this.
- Family Fun: We end with a fun, usually short game or activity like tag, hide and seek, card games, board games, cookie decorating, crafts, improv games, storytelling games, and more.
In our house, the “Leader of the Meeting” runs the meeting, decides whether we’ll share compliments, appreciations, or gratitude and how it will be shared, and decides what we’ll do for family fun.
This responsibility rotates and gives everyone a chance to practice meeting facilitation and leadership. When my kids were young, sometimes we used a “talking stick” to remind each other that when one person is speaking, everyone else should be listening.
Comment on image: This is our original Leader of the Meeting rotation schedule complete with water stains. It’s been up on the wall for years.
The whole meeting lasts between 10 and 30 minutes depending usually on how much fun we are having with point 5, Family Fun.
When children are 4 and under, a 5-minute meeting may be all they can handle, and mostly focused on compliments and family fun. But even if children are older, I highly recommend keeping the meeting short and sweet so they’ll keep coming back.
Values and Skills Children Learn & Practice in Family Meetings
In every parenting class I facilitate, participants brainstorm a list of values, skills, and characteristics they hope their children will have as adults. After I demonstrate a family meeting, we then look through the list to notice which of these skills and values children might be learning from family meetings.
The list below was generated from a recent class; bolded items are skills that participants thought children might be learning from family meetings. As you can see, there are a LOT!
Values, Skills, & Characteristics we hope our children will have for the Long Term
Family Meeting Do’s and Don’ts
(From “Parenting the Positive Discipline Way” by Nelsen and Lott)
- Remember the long‑range purpose: To teach valuable life skills.
- Post an agenda where family members can write down their concerns or problems.
- Start with compliments to set the tone by verbalizing positive things about each other.
- Focus on solutions to problems. Teach children to brainstorm for as many solutions as possible. Have fun. Some suggestions can be silly or outrageous. Choose one suggestion (by consensus) that is practical and respectful to everyone and try it for a week.
- When consensus can’t be reached, table that item for more discussion next week.
- Focus on solutions, not blame.
- Calendar a family fun activity for later in the week – and all sports and other activities (including a chauffeur schedule).
- Keep family meetings short 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the ages of your children. End with a family fun activity, game, or dessert.
- Use family meetings as a platform for lectures and parental control.
- Expect perfection. Celebrate improvement. (See No. 5 above)
- Skip weekly family meetings. (They should be the most important date on your calendar.)
- Forget that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.
- Forget that learning skills takes time. You wouldn’t expect children to learn to read in a day, a week, or a month. Family members need time to learn cooperation and problem skills as well. Even solutions that don’t work provide an opportunity to learn and try again—always focusing on respect and solutions.
- Expect children under the age of four to participate fully in the process. (If younger children are too distracting, wait until they are in bed.)
Family Meetings are not all pretty. But that’s OK because we’re learning for the long term.
I don’t mean to imply that we are always smiling and happy at family meetings. We’ve endured more than a handful of eye-rolls when the Family Meeting was called to order. There were many times when “Family Fun” degenerated into “Family Feud” and someone stormed off in tears. But that’s life. It’s not always pretty. And we are all learning for the long term.
My oldest two children are now in college. We don’t include them in our family meetings anymore, but we do have a family Zoom call every Sunday. During one call, my son told us that messes were getting out of hand in the apartment he shared with 3 other roommates. He called a meeting to find solutions. ( : (Read more about how Positive Discipline and a “Chore Chart” followed my son to college here.)
More Resources on Family Meetings
- About Family Meetings from SounDiscipline, a short article
- All About Family Meetings with Julietta Skoog, a parenting podcast from Joyful Courage (this is GREAT!)
- Demo of Family Meeting (role-played)
- One dozen on-line resources on Family Meetings
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