Promoting Positive Communication through Structured Family Meetings

002Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of our lives it seems like there’s no time to sit down with our families and really talk, but here is a great solution: family meetings. A family meeting is a regularly scheduled time for the whole family to speak together in a purposeful way. These meetings improve communication, build problem solving skills and increase the feeling of involvement for older kids. Family meetings work well for families with children who are old enough to be in school. It’s a great strategy for larger families, but can be adapted successfully for smaller families too.
My husband and I were reluctant to start family meetings because we feel that we already have a lot of communication with our kids. We eat dinner as a family almost every night and spend most evenings and weekends together. When situations arise, we have informal family meetings to address them and clear problems up. We use a parenting style that is more like a benevolent dictator rather than a democracy so I wasn’t sure this would feel comfortable for us, but after several of my friends recommended it, we tried it.

Here are some guidelines I used to set up our meeting:

  •   Plan the meeting
    I made a little poster announcing the meeting and posted it in the kitchen. I researched family meetings and considered the possible pitfalls and planned how I’d handle problems. I also got my husband involved so it wouldn’t be “mom’s meeting”.
  •  Meet at a regular time
    I scheduled our meeting on Sunday afternoon when everyone is home and it’s a quiet time in our house. I planned for it to last about 15 minutes.
  •  Make a list of topics or an agenda
    On my poster, I included a sentence saying why we were having the meeting and had blank spaces for the kids to fill in topics they wanted to discuss. I used part of my time to go over the upcoming week and month’s calendar of events for each of us. The kids naturally enjoyed listing various complaints on the sheet.
  •  Start with prayer
    We started with prayer and a spiritual quote to get our minds in a better frame. If we invite God to our meeting, we’d better be kind to each other! This was how we brought love into the meeting, reduced complaining, and introduced the ground rules.
  •  Ground rules
    Establish that no one can interrupt, insult, or tease another family member at the meeting.
  •  Take notes/ assign jobs
    I assigned the job of secretary to my most active, impulsive child so that he would be more invested in the process and have something to occupy him. I was the chairperson, but once the routines are established, one of the kids can do it.
  •  Get feedback
    I asked everyone to repeat back what they heard each other saying to reduce misunderstandings and hold everyone more responsible.
  •  Problem solving
    Almost every topic the kids listed was a complaint. We guided them to find solutions to those problems. Some of the problems were things that the whole group didn’t need to discuss and we simply stated they were not of general interest. If we couldn’t agree on something, we put it off for another meeting. One way they solved a problem was to say they could have mercy on the person bothering them, remembering we all have faults.
  •  Closure
    When our meeting was over, we concluded with prayer. Another time, we might like to follow up with a fun activity, which would be chosen by everyone during the meeting. A quick game of Uno, a walk, or some other simple activity would conclude the meeting in a positive way and reinforce the bonds of love within the family.

Even though most of the topics started out as complaints, our meeting was productive. We communicated honestly and seemed to make some progress at seeing another person’s point of view. My precocious secretary attempted a little power grab during the meeting – maybe he thought that having the meeting made us sort of equals, but we handled that right away. It brought back memories of my childhood when every family meeting ended with my father raising his voice to announce that our family was not a democracy! There were eight of us and he sure wasn’t going to be outvoted every time. Maybe that is the biggest fear we parents might have about family meetings: do they make us seem like we can be outvoted? I told my son that the family meeting’s purpose was to help us communicate and solve problems. It gives the kids a chance to let us know what they’re thinking and feeling about issues so we can guide and direct them, not to suddenly make them co-parents with responsibilities they’re not ready to handle.
The structured family meeting serves a good purpose by providing a structured, planned time when we model good parenting for our kids and help them see how families intentionally communicate, solve problems and plan events. It’s a great way of keeping everyone in the loop so they know not only about Grandma’s birthday next week, but about how teasing can be too much for some family members and how to handle it.
Resources:
Prayers for family meetings
In the Name of the Father, the Son, &the Holy Spirit: O HOLY LORD, King of heaven and earth, look down with mercy and compassion from the height of Thy holy dwelling, upon our home. Grant health and everything good to my Father and Mother, so that they may take care of us and everyone in our household. And help us all to do what is good and pleasing to Thee. Amen.
O Greatly Merciful Lord, Who gives food to the birds of the sky and to all living things on the earth, Who watches over the flower that sprouts amidst the rocky cliffs; nourish, bring up, and protect well our children also. Help us, O Lord, to plant in their souls what is good and useful for the Holy Church and the nation, and what is well pleasing to Thee, that Thy holy name may be exalted through them. Fill them, O Lord, with the enlightened wisdom and holy understanding which come down from Thee. Protect them from all the snares of enemies both visible and invisible. Command Thine Angels as always to be their enlightened guides and counselors in all good works.
We pray Thee, O Lord, to open their minds, that they may know Thee as much as possible. Amen.
Prayers from: Rev. Father Demetrios Serfes
Spiritual Saying for family meetings
• When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving, ( all these are attributes of God) to be generous, to love their fellow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls and reveal the image of God within them. This then is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness….St John Chrysostom
• When you are going anywhere, think of the righteousness of spiritually walking before God and say, “Order my steps in Thy word and let not any iniquity have dominion over me” Sr. Magdalen
References:
“Family Meetings” by Kristin Zolten, M.A. & Nicholas Long, Ph.D., Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences ©1997, 2006
“Guidelines for Family Meetings” by Donald Dinkmeyer, Jr. STEP Publishers, LLC 21 Commerce Parkway, Suite 104 Fredericksburg, VA 22406 ©2012
On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood NY 1986
Children in the Church Today by Sr. Magdalen, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1991

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