“Boys, from tomorrow we are going to hold a weekly family meeting, it’s a way to share problems and help each other out, you’ll love them” I said to Louis aged 11 and Ben aged 8. I was, in truth, a bit doubtful of the merits of a ‘formal’ family get-together, it just seemed a bit contrived. Yet the instruction from Best of Parenting was clear, Family Meetings lay at the heart of their philosophy, embracing so many of the tools I’d already had such success with, including Problem Solving, Modelling, Active Listening, and Setting a Rule. So Family Meeting Friday it was to be.
“We are to start each meeting with Family Compliments, where we take it in turns to say something nice to everyone else at the meeting.” I explained, turning to the boys, and saying, with feeling:
“I’m so proud of you Louis for being so positive about starting secondary school”
“Ben, you’ve become so responsible towards your homework, that’s fantastic”
And I then turned to my husband and said: “Barney, thanks for taking me to the theatre the other day, I really enjoyed it!”
My husband, followed with his own compliments and then the boys had a go.
“Ok” Ben began, “Yeah, I really like the way Louis makes me laugh when we are playing together!”
“And oh Mum and Dad?” he added “Thanks for looking after us!”
“Thanks Ben, it’s been a pleasure!” we answered, a bit shaky of voice, it’s not often that your own child thanks your for being its parent. But what about the tweenager, would he find this kind of touchy feely thing just a bit too awkward?
“O…kay… “ Louis began slowly “So, Ben you’ve worked really hard on that picture of the train and I think it looks really great.” Result! Ben is beaming, Louis looks rather chuffed and grown up. Contrary to expectation this family meeting seems off to a great start.
“And thanks Mum and Dad for working so hard to take us on summer holiday, it was boss!” Louis adds.
“Thanks!” smiles all round.
Now, for the “Issues and Needs” part of the meeting where we could help trouble-shoot each others problems or help solve their needs.
“I’d like to have a bank account for my pocket money savings” Louis ventured a little tentatively.
“And I want to get rid of some of my old toys so that I can buy new ones…!” said the little one.
“And I want to be able to sleep-in undisturbed until eight on the weekends” I said hopefully.
“And I’d like you two to do less fighting over your Lego” said my husband, with me nodding madly.
We then went through each request and discussed it, agreeing to the easy requests (meeting with bank arranged, ditto toy sale) and brainstorming the trickier bits like the lie-in (boys agreed to stay in their rooms playing for an extra hour). The hardest part was tackling the thorny subject of how to reduce the amount of time the boys were spending fighting over their Lego. Dealing with this required a bit of advanced problem solving, encouraging the boys to understand the issue, see it from each other’s perspective and find a way of improving the situation by agreement.
“So” I said “Why do you two keep fighting over your Lego?”
Louis leapt in on the attack: “I don’t want Ben anywhere near my Lego, he keeps playing with my it and messing it up!”
“But Louis have your ever accidentally broken any of Ben’s Lego models ?” Barney asked.
Ben: “Yes he has! He took my Darth Vadar spaceship and turned it into a Batmobile!”
Louis: “But the Batmobile was much cooler!”
It was time for Barney to step in with some empathy work:
“Ok Louis, but the point is that Ben was upset that you’d broken up the model that he’d worked hard on and I think you know how that feels. So what do you think could be done to stop you both getting upset?”
Louis: “Erm, maybe we should ask if it’s ok to take apart someone else’s toy before we do it?”
Ben: “Yeah and maybe if we are really proud of something we’ve made we should keep it in a safe place away from all the other models”
This all made sense to me, particularly as I was getting tired of being accused of deliberately breaking up models when moving the Lego box off the floor, so I said:
“I think it’s a really good idea to ask before you take and to keep an eye on your things and tidy them away yourself, especially when they are in danger of getting broken”
Barney agreed adding: “So are we agreed then? The two new rules are ‘Ask before you take something from someone’ and ‘If you care about it look after it!’
And the boys agreed, up until then a rather rare event! The meeting had flown by and everyone seemed rather pleased. It was now time to agree on how best to wrap up the meeting in a celebratory fashion. Family disco (with requests) was the general consensus. Which is why we found ourselves crazy-dancing to Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, Gangnam Style and The Clash.
Some family meetings later I saw my mother; “Your boys seem so much more grown up” she said “They’ve become really chatty and considerate, is it something they’re being taught at school?’.
“Nope it’s something we are all learning at home” I replied “ A magic trick called family meetings, you should try it some time, come and join us, it will do you the power of good!”
HOW TO HOLD A FAMILY MEETING
1. Dedicate a regular time for the meeting (ideally once a week).
2. If your children are older than 6, ask the family before the meeting to add to their agenda their issues they’d like to raise in the meeting. If your children are younger, just read each point of the agenda as you go along.
3. Make sure everyone gives the meeting his or her full attention, ie. no toys or phones.
4. Appoint a chairperson who will call out the agenda.
Start with compliments, each family member complimenting each of the others.
Move on to the individual issues and ask for each family members opinion on the issues voiced. It is important that if an issue concerns the family (for example a request for a specific outing) that everyone agrees on the outcome. This might mean that the request is put on hold until agreement is reached, or that a compromise appealing to everyone is suggested.
End with a special ritual which everyone in the family will appreciate, for eg. a disco, a fun game and you can always add a family hug.