Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When is a Child Old Enough to Choose?


Hi Dr. Nelsen,We seem to be having morning issues with my three-year-old daughter. She wanted to wear a dress this morning even though it was a little chilly out. My husband put pants and a shirt on her and she was practically convulsing on the floor in anger. Do you think a three year old should be able to choose her clothes for the day? Thanks for any help that you can offer.


Dear Tracy

Oh my goodness, you are going to be in big trouble if you don't start letting her use her personal power in useful ways—unless you enjoy power struggles. Sounds like you are making the mistake many parents make in the name of love—over parenting.

Have you thought about what you want for your daughter? Do you want her to feel capable? Do you want her to develop life skills? Do you want her to be responsible? Do you want her to learn problem-solving skills?

What does she learn when you choose her clothes? That she is not capable; she isn't responsible--you are; she can't learn problem-solving skills. If she gets cold, I'll bet she can figure out how to solve that problem--if you let her. It would not be effective to tell her what to do, but to ask her what she thinks she could do to solve the problem. By asking curiosity questions, you provide her with the opportunity to think, to figure it out, and to feel capable.

Let me give you a few more examples of how curiosity questions could help your child feel capable and develop problem-solving skills. You could ask, "What will happen if you are wearing a dress and it is cold?" What can you do if you want to be warm?" Suppose she still wants to wear a dress and does get cold? This is not the time for the "I told you so," lecture. It is time for validation and faith in her. When she complains about being cold you can respond, "I'll bet you are, and I'll bet you can figure out why and what you need to do to solve that problem."

I hope you will read Positive Discipline for Preschoolers for many more ideas on how to help your daughter use her power in useful ways and to help her develop a sense of her own capability and other valuable social and life skills for good character.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When are Children Old Enough to Participate in Family Meetings?


Jane - How old do you suggest children be to start family meetings? My boys are 3 1/2 and 5 years old. I'd like to start family meetings to discuss issues that need to be addressed and get the boys involved, but I'm thinking they may be too young. Thanks.



Hi Julie, Your 5 year old is definitely old enough. Only you will be able to tell if the 3 1/2 year old is old enough--can he participate? The magic age seems to be 4. It is very important to start family meetings as soon after 4 as possible so children start learning to use their power in useful ways and to develop the belief, "I am capable." This will eliminate many power struggles--and 4-year-olds are so good at problem-solving when given the opportunity.
You might find the following excerpt handy for getting started:

Why have Family Meetings?

An excerpt from Positive Discipline and from Our Family Meeting Album, an e-book By Jane Nelsen available at www.focusingonsolutions.com

Holding regular Family Meetings is one of the most valuable things you can do as a family. Why?
Family Meetings provide an opportunity to teach children valuable social and life skills for good character. They will learn:
  • Listening skills
  • Brainstorming skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Mutual respect
  • The value of cooling off before solving a problem. (Problems are put on the weekly challenges pages so a cooling off period takes place before focusing on solutions to the challenge.)
  • Concern for others
  • Cooperation
  • Accountability in a safe environment. (People don’t worry about admitting mistakes when they know they will be supported to find solutions instead of experiencing blame, shame, or pain.)
  • How to choose solutions that are respectful to everyone concerned
  • A sense of belonging and significance
  • Social interest
  • That mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn

Family Meetings provide an opportunity for parents to:

  • Avoid power struggles by respectfully sharing control
  • Avoid micromanaging children, so children learn self-discipline
  • Listen in ways that invite children to listen
  • Respectfully share responsibility
  • Create good memories through a family tradition
  • Model all of the skills they want their children to learn

If parents really understood the value of family meetings, it would be their most valuable parenting tool–and they would make every effort to schedule 15 to 30 minutes a week for family meetings.

Family Meeting Agenda


Evaluate last week’s solutions
Focus on solutions for this week’s challenges

Special Event

Meal Planning

Weekly essentials such as events, who needs rides, etc.
Family togetherness event planning

Family Fun


Each component of the agenda is important. Start with compliments for several reasons:

  • Compliments create a positive atmosphere
  • Children learn to be “good finders” when they look for and verbalize the things they appreciate about family members.
  • Children usually fight less when they participate in regular family meetings beginning with compliments.
  • It is important to have each member of the family give a compliment to every other member of the family so everyone feels a sense of belonging and significance.
  • Remember that compliments may sound awkward in the beginning. They get better with practice.

You will create a positive atmosphere in your family when everyone learns to look for the good in each other and to verbalize positive comments. Please don’t expect perfection. Some sibling squabbling is normal. However, when children (and parents) learn to give and receive compliments, negative tension is reduced considerably. Of course, a positive atmosphere is increased even more when families have regular family meetings to find solutions to problems.

Family Meeting Jobs

Recorder: Be sure to have someone write down all the ideas that are brainstormed. It is so much fun to look at these ideas later – as much fun as looking at old family picture albums.
Circle the solution that works for everyone. Consensus is important in family meetings. If you can reach consensus, table this item and try again next week.

Chairperson: Rotate this job so everyone has a chance to be the “person in charge”. The Chairperson calls the meeting to order, asks for compliments to begin, and handles the Weekly Challenges page by announcing the next challenge to be solved and following the rest of the agenda.

Timekeeper: A timekeeper can keep everyone on track so the meeting doesn’t go on and on and get boring.

Do's and Don'ts for Successful Family Meetings
by Jane Nelsen

1. Remember the long-range purpose: To teach valuable life skills.
2. Post an agenda where family members can write their concerns or problems.
3. Start with compliments to set the tone by verbalizing positive things about each other.
4. Brainstorm for solutions to problems. Choose one suggestion (by consensus) that is practical and respectful and try it for a week.
5. Focus on solutions, not blame
6. Calendar a family fun activity for later in the week – and all sports and other activities (including a chauffeur schedule).
7. Keep family meetings short 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the ages of your children. End with a family fun activity, game, or dessert.

1. Use family meetings as a platform for lectures and parental control.
2. Allow children to dominate and control. (Mutual respect is the key.)
3. Skip weekly family meetings. (They should be the most important date on your calendar.)
4. Forget that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.
5. Forget that learning skills takes time. Even solutions that don't work provide an opportunity to learn and try again—always focusing on respect and solutions.
6. Expect children under the age of four to participate in the process. (If younger children are too distracting, wait until they are in bed.)