How many of you feel confident in the workplace only to melt into a pile of frustration and fear when it comes to parenting? Why do high-functioning managers who lead successful teams come home and turn into autocrats or doormats with their children?
Imagine for a moment the most effective workgroup you have been a part of. All members of the team knew what they were responsible for and completed their tasks without micromanagement. It wasn’t always easy, but the commitment to each other and shared goals allowed the team to work through challenges in calm, respectful ways.
Now imagine that team is your family. Your team goals are to nurture a healthy family life, teach critical life skills and solve problems in a way that is respectful of both adults and kids. How does your team accomplish this? By coming together weekly to connect and tune in to the work of being a family.
Before you groan, know that I am not talking about those dreaded team meetings where the boss drones on, the senior team member quashes every new idea, and everyone else stares at their phones. I am also not talking about an occasional family meeting that is code for “someone’s in trouble.” In my work with families, I frequently hear, “We tried family meetings and they don’t work!” If family meetings have been about blame and lecture, is it any wonder?
What I am talking about is 15–30 minutes once a week to solve problems that both kids and adults have identified during the week. If you are familiar with agile project management, think of this as a stand-up meeting.
What’s on the agenda?
We start with compliments because they help us tune in to the positive before solving problems together. Don’t be surprised if this positive perspective continues to pop up during the week.
Family meetings follow a regular structure, so team members know what to expect. The meetings include four sections: compliments, problem solving, schedule planning and family fun.
At the start of the meeting, each family member gives a compliment to every other family member and then one to themselves. Learning to give and receive specific, positive feedback is a skill that takes time to develop, so this praise may sound awkward at first. We started family meetings when my oldest was 3, so compliments often were along the lines of “I like playing with you.” You can help your child think about specific compliments by asking, “Was there a time we played together this week that was especially fun?”
We start with compliments because they help us tune in to the positive before solving problems together. They also teach children (and grown-ups) to be on the lookout for the good, instead of the negative. Don’t be surprised if this positive perspective continues to pop up during the week.
During the week, when problems arise that cannot be solved in the moment, either because emotions are running too high or time is short, they can be put on the family-meeting agenda. This should be a piece of paper that is accessible to everyone. If your child is not yet writing, they can draw a picture.
After exchanging compliments, review solutions to the problems you solved the week before to check in and see if those solutions are working for everyone. Then agree as a family about which problem you will solve next and state the problem in a non-blaming way. For example, if someone wrote, “Sam always takes my stuff,” you might frame it as “respecting other people’s property.” It’s critical to stay away from blame and focus on solutions or you risk losing the team.
Next, brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the problem
Avoid debating ideas as they come up, no matter how ridiculous they seem. The idea is for everyone to have a voice without feeling judged. When the flow of ideas has ended, choose one suggestion by consensus that is respectful of everyone and commit to trying it for one week. Agreeing to try a solution for a defined period of time is often easier than when we perceive the solution as set in stone. Be sure to get specific about the logistics of your plan.
This is your built-in time to help the family get on the same page. Who needs rides where? Are there doctors’ appointments scheduled? Who is on dinner each night? Going over logistics decreases anxiety about how things will happen. In addition, it’s helping kids build their own time-management and planning skills.
Wrap up your family meeting by having some fun together (or planning something fun soon). Whether it’s a board game, a dance party or a trip to the park, coming together to share a fun experience sends us off to face the week with a positive perspective.
Everyone needs a role
If you have experience in leading teams, you might know that when people have a role, they are more likely to contribute. Family meetings are no different. Each member should have a job at the meeting, and jobs should rotate weekly.
The chairperson calls the meeting to order, asks for compliments to start and helps keep the family on task. The recorder writes down the brainstormed ideas and notes the solution that is chosen. If the notetaker is not yet able to write, that person can draw pictures. The timekeeper pays attention to the meeting’s length to make sure it is not going on too long. Other jobs may include setup, snack prep or just about anything. One of the responsibilities in our family meeting is to call for a deep breath if tension starts building.
Tips for success
Family meetings are an opportunity for our children to learn respectful use of power. When we let go of micromanaging, they develop the self-discipline we want for them.
When you introduce family meetings, remember that you are teaching a new skill. For the first few weeks, just do compliments and family fun. In the third or fourth week, introduce the concept of finding solutions. Pick something easy, such as what to do on an upcoming family day.
Timing is everything
Think about your children and what time of day would work best. We have learned that weekend mornings work best for us and that Sunday nights are the worst.
Let go of perfection
Meltdowns happen, kids get sick. Sometimes we need to cut our losses and move on. We have had family meetings for seven years now and still, about one out of five goes haywire. It’s OK to let it go for the week and try again another day.
When we give our children the opportunity to step up to the plate without fear of blame or failure, they rise to the occasion. Family meetings give children the chance to flex their own problem-solving skills. So, share the power and help develop future leaders, instead of demanding obedience. Your family is worth it.