As your kids get older there are certain conversations every parent dreads, partly because if you hear things such as a child drinking underage, becoming or even thinking of becoming, sexually active. . . Well as a friend of mine says, “Now you have drama”. The problem is bad news is not wine or cheese, it most certainly doesn’t get better with age. The only hope you have to effect the situation is to know about it, and likely the only way you will know about it is through honest communication.
So, I want to shift gears a bit this week and talk about a method of improving family communication, namely the family meeting. Family meetings are a great way to improve communication across all relationships inside the family dynamic, but they are subject to the same shortcomings as their corporate counterparts; namely lack of focus, and those “in charge” talking when they should be listening.
The following suggestions can be used around the kitchen table or in the boardroom with great effectiveness:
1. Mom and Dad should co-chair the meetings initially, but eventually you will transition to everyone sharing in this duty.
2. At the first meeting be sure to remind the family everyone is expected to contribute, to be considerate to the others and to actively listen. Be sure to be clear that no one will be punished, physically or emotionally, for saying what they feel in a meeting.
3. Go around the table, allowing each person to say something positive about how things are going in the family. Parents should offer encouragement and praise for good things mentioned.
4. Next ask the youngest family member to identify a challenge they are having or something that bothered them. This can be school, sports, or something inside the family dynamic. Work your way through the family to the oldest.
4a. An alternative is to have an Agenda sheet on the refrigerator where anyone can write issues to be discussed at the next meeting.
5. As problems are raised, family members should be encouraged to brainstorm proposed solutions.
6. Parents should ask open ended questions such as, “What do you think the problem is?” or “How do you think we could fix this?”
7. Go around the table again, talking about where the family is on the goals the family established for itself when you completed your goal sheets.
8. Go over the family schedule for the week and try to resolve any conflicts.
9. Last, each family member should say something they appreciate about one of the other members. It can be thanks for help on homework, naming a kind thing they said/did or how the family member lifted their spirits during the week.
10. Close the evening with either an activity or dessert everyone enjoys (watching TV is most definitely NOT what I have in mind here). If the first few meetings don’t go as well as you might hope, don’t give up on them; evaluate what didn’t go as well as you would like and make adjustments. Over time you will find family meetings to be another valuable tool in your kit bag of keeping your family communicating and functioning well. Family meetings are a great chance to keep your finger on the pulse of your family, a chance to teach your children how to handle conflict resolution, and get everyone in the habit of communicating the good, the bad and the ugly.