Village School

For the Love of Family Meetings

By Susan, Village School Parent and Parent Education Lead

I just recently finished facilitating a Positive Discipline at Home class, and the concept of Family Meetings came up often and seemed to really resonate with the class. They are one of the most effective strategies we’ve used for problem solving in my household. So, as a refresher for those who have taken the class and a preview for those who haven’t, I wanted to write about the whys and hows of family meetings.

Why have family meetings? There are many reasons, but for us they are a way for us to check in and work together to solve issues that arise. They are similar to the class meetings at Village, so it’s a familiar concept to our kids. Everyone gets their say, as opposed to solving problems via decree from us, the parents. It’s also a time we set aside for family bonding, which is so easily neglected when we’re all so busy.

How does a family meeting work? There isn’t just one method, but what is suggested in the Positive Discipline books and curriculum is that you begin with compliments, from each member of the family to each member of the family. This requires everyone, particularly siblings who don’t get along easily, to come up with something they can appreciate about each other, and it creates a positive atmosphere. Another idea is to alternate compliments one week with stating something each person is grateful for the next week.

Next, move on to solving problems that have arisen during the week. Keeping a running list on paper or a dry erase board is a good way for everyone to add his or her concerns to the agenda. Define the problem and brainstorm solutions. Every suggestion gets considered and written down, regardless of how impractical it might seem. Then go through all the suggested solutions and cross out any that anyone can’t live with. Discuss the remaining solutions and choose one (or more) by consensus. If consensus can’t be reached, try again at the next meeting after everyone’s had a chance to think about it.

Follow problem solving with going over the calendar for the week and planning a fun outing to do as a family. We do family meetings as part of Family Night, so we follow them with a game, show or movie we all watch together. Keep in mind that the meeting should be short, maybe 15-30 minutes.

Sometimes it’s tempting for my husband and me to just come up with solutions on our own and inform the kids. However, my experience has shown how much more willing our children are to comply if they’ve helped solve the problem. Sometimes they come up with really great ideas I never would have thought of. If the solutions we come up with don’t work, then we can try again, and we get a wonderful reminder that mistakes are opportunities for learning.

I see family meetings and family nights as an investment in the present and the future. It can be hard to make the time when there is so much going on. We are working to create a tradition of regular family time now that we plan to carry on when our kids are teenagers with their own competing priorities.

There is much more to say about family meetings. If you are interested in learning more, please see Chapter 9 in Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, which is devoted to family meetings.