Why use Family Meetings?

Hi there friends!

I started a new Parenting with Positive Discipline class today and I was again reminded how grateful I am that I get to facilitate this transformative class.  I often struggle the first week because I want all the parents to understand everything about the program, even though I know that it takes a while for people to begin to understand this amazing way of parenting and being with children.  They come with so many wonderful questions and I have to remind them (and myself) that this is a 14 hour class and we are only getting in 2 hours the first day...

One thing that comes up a lot for me when I am teaching and talking about PD is the power of Family Meetings.  These also get a few mentions in some of the blog posts I have shared in the past, so I thought it would be a nice time to write a bit deeper about this powerful tool.

Let me start by saying that Family Meetings are unique to each family.  Some families hold their meetings at the dinner table, others on the floor, and still others snuggled up on the parents' bed. Some families have small kids and are just beginning the ritual, so the meeting is short, while other families have children who are older, and they include menu planning and curfew discussions to their meetings.  No matter where you have your meetings, or what the age of your kids, Family Meetings are designed to be a friendly, weekly, event that connects your family.

We start our family meetings with compliments.  Everyone in the family gives a compliment to everyone else, including themselves.  This is an awesome way to model giving and receiving compliments.  Sometimes we "revisit" how to give a meaningful compliment (usually after the fourth straight week of hearing "Mom, thank you for making dinner" and "Dad, I want to give you a compliment for working so hard.") and encourage the kids to think about what someone did that was thoughtful or made them feel good during the past week.  Other times we change things up and start with an Appreciation Circle, which sounds like "I am grateful for..."  Either way, this is how we start our Family Meeting.

Then we begin problem solving.  Throughout the week, the family is invited to write down any problems they are having in the Family Meeting book.  This becomes a tool in itself because instead of feeling like I need to solve all the problems I get to say, "Can you find a solutions to that problem or would you like to write it in the Family Meeting Book?"  Some things that have made it into the book are: putting lunch box ice packs in the freezer (me), we need a computer time schedule (Rowan), how we decide what we watch for family movie time  (Ian), and too much nagging to get Rowan to practice the piano (Ben).  We worked as a family to find solutions that work for everyone for all of these problems and more.  The nice thing about recording everything in the book is that we can revisit what we decided during the week, instead of forgetting and not following through.

Problem solving can be tricky!  I am constantly reminding myself that it is not about what I want the solution to be, but rather it is a process we all go through together, valuing everyones voice and opinions. I'm a bit of a control freak so you can see how this would be challenging for me...  And it is also important to remember that we are looking for solutions during problem solving - what would help the kids do better?  How can we solve the problem???  Below are some pictures of how we use our Family Meeting Book.  Its not always neat and tidy, but it is a wonderful way to connect and involve the whole family.

As you can see, we all take turns being the "writer."  This is another way for me to let go of my controlling tendencies...  Just last week I said to the family, "I am doing way to much talking during the Family Meeting!  I think it would help me if someone else led the meetings so that I don't feel like I need to talk to much."  As you can imagine, there was no shortage of volunteers to lead the meetings.  This week Rowan will have a turn.

After we are finished with problem solving we plan something fun to do during the next week.  Some of the things we have decided on are board game nights, hiking, pumpkin carving (or "pupkinkrveg" as Ian wrote above), going to the movies, skiing together.  Ben and I will often say, "this week lets think about things we can do that are free" to remind them that there are lots of things we can do that don't cost money. I love this part of the meeting because there is an expectation that we will be doing something during the week together.  We eat together every day and go on outings/practices/errands, but this is something we all decide together.

And we always end our family meetings with hot fudge sundaes :).  After dinner desserts are not a daily occurrence, but we have made treats after family meetings a ritual - and we all enjoy that!  

This is our routine.  We have been religious about it since January 2011 and it has made a HUGE difference in the climate of our home.  It is a wonderful way of keeping each other accountable...  When I say, "When did you agree to practice piano?" to Rowan, she has somewhere to look to remind herself.  It has been especially powerful for chores (we call them family work).  The expectation that the kids participate in family work never goes away, but the kids get to participate in problem solving about how that work gets done...  It is empowering for them and gets them invested in the agreements - and they always know they can write in the family meeting book if they want to change things around!  We love our family meetings - I dare you to try it too!!!

Smiles ~ Casey