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Our life coaches, Style and Substance: On family meetings

Dear Style & Substance:

My husband and I had heard so much about family meetings that we wanted to give it a try. So, we had one and it was a nightmare. Can you give us some guidelines or ideas on how to hold one that the kids actually want to attend and that doesn’t end in more confusion or anger than when it was initiated?

Family Meetings have the potential to be mocked, dreaded, and avoided; however, they can also be productive, and dare we say, fun. The first guideline of hosting a Family Meeting is to set an agenda. Parents are the directors of a family and as such should have a clear idea of the issue (or issues) to be discussed and lead all family members to resolution. The agenda should have a main topic but also some “atta-boy” and “atta-girl” praises (also to include the parents!) to let everyone know that although there may be a family problem, there are some great happenings and behaviors that you are very supportive of and appreciate.

Serve food. This is a simple truth for any gathering – food brings people together and can create lasting and happy memories. Food also helps set the stage for comfortable communication and a relaxed atmosphere. Successful Family Meetings are about seeking resolution, not creating fear.

A great first Family Meeting can be about setting guidelines for discussion and communication, which can be used in the home as everyday guidelines, or at the Family Meetings themselves. Every family is different as is every family member. This truth must be recognized if a family meeting is to be successful and repeated. Each person’s communication style should be considered, yet no one style should dictate the tone of the meeting. Respectful and honest communication can help everyone feel secure in the knowledge that “we are all in this together.” Everybody wants his or her opinion to be heard. If anybody feels attacked or not valued, the meeting can turn into a nightmare and create hard feelings. So, set the communication rules as; one at a time, listen gracefully, hold your opinions until all have spoken, and agree to possibly disagree at times. As parents, take everything into consideration and weigh all opinions before responding. Sometimes the best response is that you will now think about the conversation, since all have contributed, and get back to them. Make sure that you follow through, or the Family Meeting has then lost its value.

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