In order to make your family meetings effective, there a few imperative rules that you must adhere to.
1- Everyone feels safe.
All members of the family must feel un-threatened and safe to express their feelings. If your family meeting becomes the allowed place to emotionally beat up each other, your family will not want to come. No one is allowed to freak out, lose control, beat up on, or blame each other aggressively. All family members must work together to be sure that everyone feels safe to be at the meeting. If someone is expressing his anger in a way that you feel borders on aggressive, firmly ask the person to keep talking, but to change their tone or their words so as not to attack the other.
2- Everyone is equal.
It is here that all family members are equal. There is no boss, no authority, just a handful of people sharing frustrations and seeking joint solutions. If we come in as the all-knowing, all-deciding parenting authority who gives the final verdict; than we belittle the opinions of others and stop their creative juices from flowing towards solutions. Family meetings are the ideal place to develop problem-solving skills. (Just for the record, the all-time best family solutions in the Klaf Family home have come from the kids!)
3- Speaker has the mic.
When a family member is talking, everyone else is listening. That means no tv, no cell phones, no side conversations, and no interrupting. Often times, families pass around some item that only the speaker holds. This artificial platform teaches all family members the importance of listening to each other. When the speaker holds the mic, he knows he can safely express whatever is boiling inside of him, without being stopped in the middle. When he is done, whoever his complaint is geared toward, can respond. Allowing our family members this space to fully express themselves is a powerful gift to the soul.
4- Keep it short.
Like meetings at work, family meetings, that drag on are a drag. Agree on one or two topics that you wish to discuss in advance, leave time for family meeting other issues that may arise, and set a time limit to the meeting itself. We don’t want monologues and speeches; we want relevant information and relevant solutions.
5- Have regular meetings.
The more often your meetings, the more effective they are. It is powerful when family members know that there is a mechanism ingrained in their home life that allows them to regularly express and solve their frustrations. A set weekly family meeting is most effective. Your family will schedule them according to your needs and lifestyle: once a month or on a need-only basis. Don’t beat yourself up when you intend to have them at set intervals and it doesn’t turn out that way.
6- Honor agreements.
In family meetings, we use negotiations and agreements to solidify solutions. You can write out the agreements or use pictures for younger children. Agreements are deemed fair by all involved parties but are always open for re-negotiation. It is imperative that you don’t ‘trap’ a child or a parent in an agreement that is not working out for them. You draft your agreement, try and tweek the document in the coming weeks until all parties feel comfortable with the results. Needs change; agreements change. Even the best agreements sometimes have a short shelf life. Be ready for it.
7- Make it fun.
We want our family meeting to leave a fun taste in everyone’s mouth. Use them not only to clean up dirty laundry. Use your family meeting to decide together where the family will go on vacation, what you’ll do together this Saturday, or what present we should get for grandmother’s 60th birthday. Let the family decide together on whether we should go bowling or to the movies. Add in some ice cream or play a family board game right after to bring sweetness into the deal. Remember, being part of this family is fun too!!
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