Keeping in mind that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn, the biggest mistake parents made that kept the meetings from coming closer to perfection was talking too much. Children are not thrilled about family meetings that provide another platform for parents to lecture. Parents need to talk less and listen more. Yes, I know how difficult this is—I’m still working on it. Somehow we parents think we aren’t doing our jobs unless we are talking, talking, talking.
Another mistake was trying to “fix feelings” (or to try talking children out of having their feelings) instead of just listening. Sometimes it can be encouraging to validate feelings, but try validating feelings with you lips together, "Mmmmm." This allows children to discover that they can work through their feelings and learn from them.
It is most effective to have family meetings once a week and to stick to an allotted time of 20 to 30 minutes—even if everything on the agenda has not been covered. This just might help your children learn "delayed gratification." Also, it gives them time to absorb what was discussed during the meeting, to try the agreed upon solution, and to practice working things out for themselves in between meetings.
Family meetings are one of the most important tools parents can use to teach children so many valuable social and life skills such as:
- Listening skills
- Brainstorming skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Mutual respect
- The value of cooling off before solving a problem. (Problems are put on the family meeting agenda so a cooling off period takes place before focusing on solutions to the challenge.)
- Concern for others
- 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
- Having fun together as a family
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
Where else can you get so much for such a small investment in time? Family meetings provide a wonderful family tradition that may carry on for generations. A funny story about that: my children loved family meetings when they were six to twelve or so. Then they started complaining, as typical teens do, about how stupid family meetings were. I asked them to humor me, and that we could shorten the time from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.
One day Mary, one of the complainers, spent the night at a friend’s house. The next day she announced, “That family is so screwed up. They should be having family meetings.”
When Mary went off to college, she initiated regular “family meetings” with her roommates and said they would not have survived without them. Now you she shares her experience of involving four-year-old Greyson in his first family meeting.
Be sure and listen to the podcast below for more information on Family Meetings!
Family Meeting Podcast with Dr. Jane Nelsen and Mary Nelsen Tamborski.