Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Family Meeting Gone Bad


Hi Jane,

I was hoping you could help me out here.

In the beginning of Chapter 9 "Family Meetings" in your book "Positive Discipline" there is an example of a family who came up with a solution to things not being picked up, cleaned up, etc. They used a plan with a "safe deposit box" where anyone could pick up something left on the floor and put it in this box in the garage, where contents would be on hold for one week.

I have three children 14, 12, and 9. I planned a similar exercise with them. However, the exercise quickly became competitive and if one of the kids had taken off their shoes to watch TV and stepped out to go to the bathroom, another would seized the opportunity to make off with the shoes. For the next two days, I became the referee of minor infractions. such as, "does it count if I leave the room to go to the bathroom but am coming right back?" When I told them it was OK if you were going to the bathroom and coming right back, the rule started to be distorted and abused in several variations.

I told them several times that this was not meant to be a competitive, "get your sister/brother" game. The point was to hold your self and others accountable for leaving their stuff around the house. The kids were getting very upset with each other and with me (the referee).

I didn't see this one coming! Perhaps I shouldn't allow the children to put things into the "safe deposit box". What do you think?

Thanks, Mike


Hi Mike,.

Thanks for asking. Rudolf Dreikurs used to say, "The solution for democracy that doesn't work is more democracy." I'm trying to read between the lines of your question and am just guessing about a few things, so I could be wrong. The first problem I see is that you say "you" planned a similar exercise for them. It would be okay if you suggested it, but plans always work better if kids choose it or agree to it. It would go something like this:

You would put the problem of picking things up on the family meeting agenda. Then the whole family would brainstorm for solutions. You might suggest a "deposit box." Then the kids (and you--a consensus) would choose which of the brainstormed solutions you all thought would work. If they chose the deposit box, and you agreed, you would all brainstorm for the rules to go along with it. For example, could anyone go get their stuff any time? Would they have to wait a week? Would they put a dime in the jar (for pizza later) when they got something out? Etc.

Then, when things go wrong and they ask you questions, you say, "I don't know. Put it on the agenda and we'll talk about it at our next family meeting." Then just let them deal with it until the next meeting. Leave the room so they can't get you involved.

You might put the problem of "competition" on the agenda and when it comes up at a meeting; ask the kids to help you understand what that is all about--and then listen. (It is so difficult for most parents, including me, to avoid those lectures.)

The fact that your kids are so competitive at this time is very normal--and is all the more reason to have regular family meetings to help them learn to focus on solutions that work for everyone. Remember that it takes time for kids to learn new skills and things often get worse before they get better. Give it some time and give me an update on how it goes. I wish you the best.

Jane Nelsen

PS. Mike, I just checked Positive Discipline and found the points you missed

. The problem was shared in a family meeting. The children created the solution.
. Mom and Dad did not take over responsibility when problems arose in carrying out the family’s decision.
. The children enforced the rules because Mom and Dad stayed out of it.

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