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Family Meetings: Why They Are Important and How-To Do Them

Gifted Parenting and Strategies

The Tips for Parents article is authored by Catherine Gruener based upon a seminar hosted for Young Scholar families. She provided resources, education, and guidance in application of Family Meetings, using Adlerian approaches with a Positive Discipline focus (Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006). 

Why are Family Meetings Important?

In today’s world, families are finding less time to connect. Many parents report feeling as if they are running from place to place, being overscheduled, and feeling overwhelmed. From the demands of dual income households, to extracurricular activities, and even the use of electronic devices, many external factors claim the family’s focus. Weekly Family Meetings can assist not only in time management, but more importantly in providing a structure in which to teach valuable life skills.

The focus of Family Meetings is on connecting and finding solutions. It is bringing the power of the approach (Connection) along with the movement of understanding, empathy, compassion, and guidance in supporting growth (Encouragement) to a helpful group structure.

What are Family Meetings the Positive Discipline way?

Some of the key components of Positive Discipline include: Kind and Firm, Connection, Encouragement, embracing Mistakes as Opportunities to Learn, Focusing on Solutions, and Taking Time to Train (Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006). Family Meetings the Positive Discipline way utilize these approaches along with other tools within its structure.

Benefits of Family Meetings conducted with the use of these approaches and tools are plentiful. Some of the benefits include: providing a designated and reliable space and time to bond as a family; offering space and time to celebrate as well as problem solve individual and family issues; helping children to feel a sense of belonging and importance; offering parents a platform to share family values; offering children a chance to learn and practice listening and problem solving skills; offering a space and time for families to coordinate schedules; offering families the opportunity to share in the joys and fun of being a family; and so much more.

Family meetings provide a structure in which connection, encouragement, and problem solving come together in as little as 20-30 minutes per week.

Example of a Family Meeting Agenda (Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Positive Discipline Association, 2004; Gruener, 2015):

A. Jobs: Leader/Runs the Meeting, Note Taker/Scribe, Time Keeper, Other potential jobs: peace keeper, snack person, set up, clean up
B. Compliments/Appreciations/Sharing of a Positive Experience
C. List Items-Items for sharing, discussion, or problem-solving (Brainstorming solutions)
D. Calendar (what’s on tap for the week)
E. Celebration or Family Fun Activity

Participants were offered several examples of Family Meeting agendas. The foundations of a Family Meeting are compliments or appreciations, items for sharing, discussing, or problem-solving, and family fun. The author recommends inclusion of the Calendar agenda item because this item offers a space and time for everyone to share what is happening over the upcoming week, as well as provide an opportunity to problem solve or coordinate schedules and transportation.

Tools and Approaches that Support Family Meetings

When children feel a sense of belonging and significance, they behave more respectfully and responsibly, paving the way for positive problem solving (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1987; Lott & Nelsen, 2012; Nelsen, 2006; Neufeld & Mate, 2006; Siegel & Hartzell, 2004). Jobs provide family members opportunities to contribute to the Family Meeting, and to find belonging in respectful, responsible, and cooperative ways. By rotating jobs at every meeting, children can learn new skills and test out new behaviors. Compliments or appreciations highlight the concepts of Connection and Encouragement (Nelsen, 2006). Connection and encouragement with ourselves and with our children helps to build a working attachment (Neufeld & Mate, 2006). A working attachment supports healthy interactions that can become the foundation of a healthy parent-child relationship. A purposeful positive compliment or appreciation by a parent can highlight something positive in a child’s life, encourage the child to continue with the behavior, as well as teach everyone at the meeting a family value. Plus, compliments and appreciations bring participants to the table and set a mood of collaboration, gratitude, and cooperation.

Some examples of compliments or appreciations:

“Jerry (husband), I so appreciate you making it home in time for dinner this week, we all had a nice time eating together.”
“Joe (child), thank you so much for taking out the trash this week without me even asking, that really was a big help for me.”
“Jane (child), I loved watching you and your brother play together and share those skittles with one another.”

Problem-solving in Family Meetings requires use of many tools. From Focusing on Solutions, embracing that Mistakes are Opportunities to Learn, to Connection, Encouragement, and Mutual Respect (Nelsen, 2006). The List agenda item offers family members a place and time to discuss problems or issues that they have not been able to problem solve on their own. Children and adults problem solve to their best abilities. Focusing too much on what is not working can invite feelings of shame, blame, anxiety and a whole host of negative emotions. Family Meeting List agenda items focus on finding solutions to problems rather than blaming or shaming. Family members are encouraged to discuss an issue or problem that they would like to share and solve during this portion of the meeting. All family members are encouraged to brainstorm solutions to the problem. Through group collaborative problem solving, children learn listening and problem solving skills and mutual respect. An added bonus is an opportunity to feel capable, connected, and significant in offering solutions to other family member’s problems.

Some Suggestions for success with Family Meetings:

  1. Be consistent with the dates and times for family meetings. Routines create predictability and structure. Children are more trusting that their issues will be addressed if meetings are held weekly and consistently.
  2. Create a family meeting agenda that meets the needs of your family and that aligns with your family values. Consider other ideas for agenda items, but limit the meeting to no more than 30 minutes. Foundational items on the family meeting agenda are compliments/appreciations, problem solving time, and family fun.
  3. Take time to teach family members about each aspect of the family meeting. Some families just start out with introducing the concept of the family meeting and do appreciations/compliments, then increasingly add and teach other the parts of the meeting over weeks and months.
  4. When teaching and facilitating the List portion of the agenda, stay connected, use kind and firm principles, do not shame or blame, and keep problem solving specific and focused on solutions.
  5. Choose a notebook or a special way of keeping notes from every meeting. Notes not only keep the meetings organized, they can also serve as a family keepsake. Keep track of brainstormed solutions to problems from the list. If a solution that was chosen doesn’t work, the list can be revisited to try another solution.
  6. Focus on the core values of Positive Discipline (Nelsen, 2006): Kind and Firm, Belonging and Significance, learning tools (valuable social and life skills), embracing that Mistakes are Opportunities to Learn, and positively problem solving.

Conclusion

Family Meetings provide parents opportunities for connecting, encouraging, modeling and teaching valuable life skills. If Connection is the force that keeps us grounded and influences how we interact and develop, and Encouragement is the movement or the nutrient that supports growth, then Family Meetings are the vehicle that we can use to teach, guide, and problem solve.

More information can be requested, along with the expanded references for these Tips by contacting Catherine Gruener, M.A., M.A., LCPC, NCC at Gruener Consulting LLC  https://www.encouragementparenting.com.

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