Holding a Family Meeting is a "no brainer" compared to the other parenting tasks you take on. You ONLY have to gain the trust of your kids...and, perhaps, your spouse to "play along". See, a cinch!
The Family Meeting is designed to:
1. See how the "business" is running.
2. Acknowledge complaints and concerns and develop a plan to address them.
3. Allow everyone to be 'heard" on their issues. Sometimes "this" is all it takes.
The Family Meeting requires that everyone understand and accept the rules:
- It is to be held, generally, at the same time every week. Hold it in the same place, preferably the dining table or other "pay attention to this"-type of setting. No No No "screens" or devices. All attention is on the family. This goes for you Mom and Dad...set the tone.
- The meeting is NOT to take more than 15 minutes. NO EXCEPTIONS!! Kids do not have tolerance for more than 15 minutes. Put a timer on the table. If you talk yourself into going longer, it will become a "death spiral" of complaints and agitation. Trust me on this.
- Invoke the tradition of the Talking Stick. Native American tribal councils used this technique in order to maintain respect, dignity and to ensure that each member was heard. The stick also infused the speaker with wisdom. You can make your own stick, use a wooden spoon or have someone come up with something new every week. The rule is that when someone has the stick, they are the only ones to speak. No kidding..."stick" to it. The flow will be much more productive.
- All participants are to make "I" statements in order to avoid "finger pointing" and blame. "I don't like it when Sam makes fun of my friends when they are here" versus "Sam always makes fun of my friends. He's a big fat-head jerk". [This will require some training...heh, heh, heh]
- Each participant can speak for 1 minute only. NO MORE! Keep a timer..preferably an egg-timer (the kind with the sand) so that they can judge their time limits. They will become trained to state their needs quickly and accurately. Younger children or those with less competent oral expression need more time. One parent may help them frame their statements before the meeting.
- Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, somebody takes cryptic notes ("minutes").
- Decide on one or two "big issues" that impact the entire family. With input from others, develop a plan that will be practiced over the next week. Keep the plan simple and straightforward (the KISS principle). "Sam, when Sally's friends are over, do not speak to them except for a friendly 'Hi'. Sally, don't talk to Sam and tell your friends not to speak to him, either." Make sure they know that nasty faces, hand signals or the like are not tolerated. These behaviors are, indeed, communication.
- Assign specific responsibilities.
- Print up a copy of the notes for each participant to avoid the inevitable, "But, but, but, you said..." Ugh.
- Follow-up on "old business" the next week. Take suggestions on how to improve the situations. Refine and implement. Refine and implement until it's "more or less" the way you want it to be.
- Ask your kids to rate their progress for the week using a Likert Scale (1-5) or any scale you choose. Tell them your "rating" of what you have observed in terms of their efforts. Kids take a very long time to move away from the "Watch me, Mommy!" phase of life and if you communicate that you are watching, you'll get more "bang for your buck". Decide if you want their efforts to become part of the calculation of their allowance (see Money, Money, Money post).
- End with a positive comment no matter how lame it is. It was reported to me that a brother told a sister that he liked the way she breathed. That's just funny right there. What a riot! Well, if you can't say anything nice...say something silly!
- This could be an opportunity for a "special election". If there is an event to be planned, input can be solicited here. Something as simple as a dessert can create a sense of unity. "I'm making a special dessert. Who wants what?" You may end up with several desserts (and what, exactly, is wrong with THAT?), but if everyone can get a little something "their way" in life, you've made big progress. You've had those days where you can't even get coffee made to you liking, so CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLE!
After a few meetings, your kids will learn how to state their needs quickly and will begin having confidence that their issues will be addressed in an organized and predictable fashion. This process reduces anxiety as the family works together in the "public forum".
Family Meetings also reduce the number of "skirmishes" over the same issues day after day after day. When you see one of your children "not working the program", take them aside and have a chat about their needs and "what" it will take to encourage them to meaningfully participate with the family. They may end up sharing issues that need to be addressed privately.
The harvest of your efforts will be realized ONLY if you are consistent. Give it 2 months. Increase your chances of success by using the language in the "You're All Talk" post of several weeks ago. Also know that you do not have to respond immediately. Take time to think..."That's a really important point; I need some time to think it through". Make sure you get back to them on the issue and don't let it slide. Respond to them in writing with your decision. Be prepared to have them "appeal" decisions. As long as their appeal is thoughtful and rational, you're teaching them valuable life skills. Overall, through this process, they'll learn to work with you, or not.
It's up to you to decide how you want to spend your emotional energy...daily skirmishes or the Family Meeting approach.