As a certified Family and Marriage Therapist, Dr. Ann Clark, ACI’s CEO and Founder, wrote the following HealthYMail article on the best practices for smooth and effective family meetings. A bestselling author, motivational speaker, and experienced mental health professional, Dr. Clark brings her knowledge to the table in this insightful article.
Family meetings can be one of the best problem solving strategies parents can adopt. They provide the family with an opportunity to improve listening skills, brainstorm, and discuss family issues in a safe and open environment. Each person, especially the children, shares responsibility in creating solutions and carrying out the family’s decision.
Here are some guidelines to help your family enjoy successful meetings:
Consistency: To start—choose a regular time. Evenings may be filled with homework and other activities, but it is important that the meeting be consistent. Skipping meetings reduces their importance in the eyes of the children.
Expectations: Let everyone know the meeting will be short—15-30 minutes depending on the size of your group. Use a timer! Input from each person is important. Wait and use silence when pouters or shy ones need more time.
Environment: Sit around a cleared table or comfortable communal area. Choose an after-meal time to reduce grouchiness. Avoid distraction by turning off all electronics (no TV in the background, no headphones, no texting, etc.).
Reward: Reward encourages learning. Have a special dessert ready for the end of the meeting, or go out for a treat. Have a “props” jar. Close the meeting by asking each person to place the name of a person who has been most helpful to them in the week. Each person names who is chosen, including a reason why, before placing the name in a jar. Once a month draw a name with a small prize for that person. The more times a name is placed in the jar, the better their odds.
Control: Decisions in family meetings are best reached by consensus rather than voting. That means talking. Children should talk more than adults as a rule, and the youngest encouraged. Remember that in a brainstorming session, every idea should be encouraged and the one most agreed upon is right for the family. To reduce interruptions and to make sure everyone feels heard, pass around a small object to the speaker and agree on consequences for interruptions.
Finally, the parents and other adults must role model for the children. Patience, listening, and taking turns are just a few of the skills that children need to learn. In leading by example, parents are the best teachers.