How to hold a family meeting that actually works
When it comes to raising our families, I think it’s fair to say that most of of us are aiming to create a positive family culture where everyone feels heard, respected and valued for their unique skills and strengths. We hope that this positive culture will result in respectful, confident children. Children who know their own worth and feel both connected to the world around them and secure about their place within it. But of course, as we’ve discussed before, emotionally healthy families don’t just happen. They require intentionality. They require us to pave a clear path for our children and instil a strong set of values that guides their actions and decisions.
This is where the family meeting shines. However, a lot of parents tell me they’ve tried family meetings before and they did NOT go well. The most common complaint I hear is that kids don’t like them. They get bored. Don’t take it seriously. Leave before it’s over. There is arguing. Complaining. Eye rolling. Storming off. And in some cases, it descends into an all in brawl. So in complete and utter frustration, parents give up and cancel the whole thing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can make family meetings work well for your family. Let’s talk about how to hold a family meeting that actually works! But first, why are family meetings important?
Why hold a family meeting?
The family meeting is an opportunity to address the everyday difficulties that arise within a family while also reinforcing your family values and living out your family mission statement. They are great opportunities for learning and growth for both adults and children. And they can proivide a safe space for children to make mistakes, practice skills, and explore their own ideas and beliefs.
And there are so many important skills children get the chance to learn and practice during a family meeting: listening to others, communicating respectfully, managing differences and resolving conflicts, problem solving and even empathy. They are a fantastic opportunity to build resilience and strengthen connections and they can significantly reduce conflict within a family when they occur regularly.
They can also be tricky. Because while we have the best of intentions when it comes to family meetings, they can quickly become a source of frustration and further fuel conflict instead of reducing it. In fact, like many of the parents I speak to, maybe you’ve tried family meetings before but gave up on them because they seemed to make things worse. I hear you. It has taken many years for my family to get this right. But now that we’ve had lots of practice, our family meetings run like a (mostly!) well oiled machine.
So how do you hold a family meeting that actually works? Read on to get my top tips.
5 steps to a successful family meeting
1. Establish ground rules
No meeting runs well without some ground rules. So have a think about the following points before you begin:
How often will you meet?
On what day of the week and where? Once a week is the general recommendation when it comes to family meetings, but of course, do what works best for your family. We have our family meetings at our dining table once a week on a Sunday evening. It helps us prepare for the week ahead and sitting at the table means we are all more likely to give the meeting the attention it deserves as we are not distracted by other things.
Does everyone in the family need to attend?
For example, very young children may actually be more of a distraction during family meetings. They often don’t have the skills required to participate in a family meeting and will not be developmentally ready to join in until around 4 or 5 years old. We sometimes wait until our 3 year old is in bed to have our family meetings, or we allow her to do something else while we discuss the agenda items.
What will your rules be during the meeting in order to allow everyone a safe space to contribute?
For example: only one person talks at at time, no electronics, kind words only. There’s no need to overwhelm the kids with a long list of rules here, but a few non negotiables will ensure everyone gets heard and is treated with respect during your meeting.
2. Set an agenda
What would you like to cover during your family meetings? In our family we cover just 4 things each meeting:
We always start our family meetings on a positive note. The activity changes from meeting to meeting but usually we ask everyone to say something positive about another family member. It could be:
- Gratitude for something someone did for you this week
- Acknowledgment of something someone did well this week
- Something you love or admire about someone else
One problem we’d like to solve:
We like to keep an agenda on our fridge that the children (and us) can add to during the week. Whenever a problem arises or we notice something coming up repeatedly, we add it the agenda to discuss at the meeting. This helps with two things. It means that the children feel their concerns are being taken seriously, and it gives us time to think about how to address the issue. This limits reactivity (from us and the kids).
For the sake of keeping things short and simple, we usually focus on discussing just one of the items on the agenda that requires a solution. During this discussion, the children brainstorm possible solutions and everything gets written down – there are no silly ideas! It is important at this stage that everyone’s ideas are heard and taken seriously. Once we have our list of ideas, we help the children to eliminate any that are unrealistic or that don’t fit with our family values and together we choose the best solution.
A review of our calendar for the week:
Next we make note of any important events coming up during the week, for each individual family member and for us as a family too. This means that we know about and can prepare for anything that’s coming up and we can also plan for some fun as a family. This is about enmsuring that the fun things we want to do together actually get done!
A fun family activity
We like to end our family meetings with some positivity and connection time, so we usually incorporate a fun family activity (nothing too elaborate!). Most of the time this will be a board game, but sometimes it will be a family movie, some baking or a pizza night!
3. Make it engaging
The biggest complaint my kids have had about family meetings in the past is that they are boring! So we try to keep the meetings fun and engaging so they don’t just tune out. There are three main things we do to keep the kids interested and actively participating.
Keep it short,. No longer than 15-30 mins. You simply won’t hold your kids attention for longer than that and the whole thing will descend into chaos quite quickly if it goes on too long. This is why we tend to focus on finding solutions for just ONE problem each week.
Bring snacks! We like to have some yummy food on the table during our meetings to ensure the kids stay put for the duration!
Provide an incentive to stay until the end. As I mentioned above, we like to end our meetings with a fun family activity and this is the perfect way to ensure the kids stay engaged and participate well. We also hand out their pocket money for the week at the end of our meetings – but have a think about what would work well for your kids!
4. Talk less!
Yep, you read that correctly. Another big problem that occurs during family meetings is that parents tend to take over and hog all the air time! It’s important that everyone gets a say duiring a family meeting. This is not time for you to lecture children or focus on problems. If children feel like you are using the family meeting as another opportunity to lecture, berate or attempt to control them…well then of course they won’t enjoy participating. Your job during the family meeting is mostly to listen and gently guide. The kids should be the real stars of the show!
5. Manage your expectations
Finally, try to remember that it’s not going to be perfect. Especially at the beginning. And especially if you have small children. There will probably be disagreements. The kids will need reminding of the rules. You may find yourself talking too much, getting frustrated and wondering what the point of this whole activity even is. And there will probably be farting and burping at the table (or is that just in my house?!).
But if you focus too much on getting it perfect, you miss out on so much learning, growth, skill building, and most importantly, connection. Family meetings are a real chance to listen to your kids and work collaboratively with them so that everyone in the family feels valued, respected and part of the team.
The most important thing to remember about family meetings is that they are NEVER perfect. But if you follow the steps above, they can be one of the most powerful tools in your mindful parenting toolbox.
Are you looking for more mindful parenting tools that will help you move away from punitive parenting and towards mindful, intentional parenting that builds emotional intelligence? Be sure to join the waitlist for my mindful parenting membership – The Mindful Little Mama. Inside, I’ll walk you through the Mindful Parenting Pathway – my entire 6 step framework for implementing mindful parenting in your home, so you can have the calm, connected family you’ve always wanted.
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.