Have you ever come up with a new parenting strategy?
An idea that that promises to make home life better—like getting help with household chores or getting the kids to bed on time.
But then your plan fails miserably. I’ve been there and I feel your pain.
So, why is it that our well-intentioned parenting ideas fail?
But another prime culprit? Trying to get kids to comply when they don’t know what’s expected of them.
Fortunately, there’s a helpful parenting tool to deal with this particular issue—something called family meetings.
Gathering the household together to discuss family business may sound like a lot of work. It may even sound contrived and unnecessary.
But I’m here to convince you that family meetings are well worth the effort.
You can liken this tool to the icing on a cake. Without this final touch, our parenting efforts are at risk of falling flat.
Ready to add a generous dollop of success to your home life?
Step 1: First get on the same page as other caregivers
Clarity is key in all aspects of parenting.
Before introducing a new rule or routine to our kids, we want to be super clear on what we—as parents—want.
This includes getting on the same page as other primary caregivers when it comes to designing goals and solutions to our parenting pain points.
For example, let’s say the bedtime routine is in shambles—the kids are all over the place, everyone is frustrated, and no one is getting to bed on time.
You and your partner set time aside to agree on a common goal (e.g., consistent timely tuck ins) and come up with a plan to see this through (e.g., new bedtime routine).
You also reach out to your parents—additional caregivers who regularly put your kids to bed—to get them on board with the plan.
Clarity amongst caregivers has lots of benefit that include:
- Creating a united front when we face natural push-back from our kids
- Clarifying what’s non-negotiable versus where kids can have a say
- Making it more likely kids children will cooperate
So, remember—as the parents and ultimate household decision makers, we want to have a solid game plan in place before discussing a new expectation with our kids.
Step 2: Prepare for the family meeting
Once you’ve achieved caregiver consensus, you’re ready to schedule your first family meeting.
You’ll want to consider the best time for all family members to gather, an age-appropriate meeting time, and whether advanced preparations are needed to keep young children occupied as part of or external to the meeting.
How long should a family meeting last?
Schedule family meetings when household members are likely to be well-rested and not in a rush. Also, keep these get-togethers short—especially as the beginning.
To determine the length of meetings, consider a child’s age and developmental stage.
For children in the 3- to 5 year range, start with 15-20 minute meetings. For older children, you’re likely safe with 30 minute gatherings. But consider how well your children handle other interactive family get-togethers such as meals and use that as a guide. You know your kids best.
Oh, and do stick to the time limit.
Family meetings are more likely to be positive and productive when we hold to a predetermined and reasonable meeting length.
Remember, it’s better to start small and be successful. Meetings can be lengthened in the future once your family gets the hang of the process.
How to set children up for successful family meeting participation
Children under 3-years-old may struggle to effectively participate in family meetings. Likewise, our attempts to keep these youngsters occupied during meetings may derail successful gatherings.
If this is the case, here are some strategies you can try:
- Set up safe activities for your toddler nearby
- Hold meetings when your youngster is sleeping
- Get the help of a babysitter
For kids able to successfully participate, consider collecting some craft materials, beforehand, such as Bristol board, construction paper, markers, stickers, scissors, and glue. Focus on art supplies that your child naturally enjoys using. Spare photos of family members, clip art pictures, and magazine clippings may also prove useful.
During the meeting, children can use these craft supplies to make a poster.
And don’t feel like the poster has to be a work of perfection!
The intention here is to keep children engaged similar to how a PowerPoint presentation helps us adults pay attention during a meeting. What you do with the poster after the meeting is entirely up to you and your family.
Step 3: Start the family meeting
In this section we’ll go through with the key steps to getting your meeting off to a great start.
This includes letting family members know why you’re gathering, using an ice breaker to get the meeting off to an interactive positive note, and setting some ground rules.
We’ll go through each of these items, in turn, below.
Establish the purpose of the family meeting
So, you’re ready to host your first meeting!
Begin the get-together by stating why everyone is gathered. In the case of meetings for parenting pain points, an adult will introduce the topic.
The point here is to raise the parenting issue in a positive manner rather than to point fingers.
As parents, we’ll be modelling and coaching our children throughout meetings. This includes using effective communication techniques.
For example, kids are more likely to listen and participate if you state: “We’re going to work together so we can all get better rested,” rather than, “We can’t sleep because you keep waking us up.”
Children want to help—they really do. And by framing problems in a positive way, kids hear the important message that their contributions matter and that all family members have an essential role in problem solving.
Another essential communication strategy?
Keep the language positive by sticking with “I” rather than “you” statements. For example, “I’m feeling really tired,” is less likely to put kids on the defensive than, “You’re making me too tired.”
And don’t forget the power of active listening.
This means listening to what your children have to say with the intent to understand rather than to respond. Kids (and adults) who feel understood are more likely to hear us out and be willing to work collaboratively toward solutions.
Begin the family meeting with a fun activity
After introducing the meeting topic, consider a quick ice breaker.
An enjoyable activity will help start meetings off on a positive note and encourage kids to get involved from the outset.
One way to begin meetings is to come up with a family name—typically one associated with the topic of discussion.
For example, “Superhero Sleepers” is a fun and empowering name when discussing sleep issues. To get the ball rolling, parents can offer names first. But make sure children get an opportunity to come up with family monikers, too.
Kids can also offer positive family descriptors such as: “We’re a family of adventurers, helpers, and dog lovers.”
If you’re making a poster, your family’s name and descriptors can be included at the top.
Another technique is to each share something positive. This could be the best part of your day, something you’re thankful for, or kind words about another family member.
There are lots of ways to get family meetings off to a great start. Choose your favourite and give it a go!
Set some ground rules for your family meeting
Meetings are more likely to run smoothly if we set some basic rules.
These are guidelines to keep meetings on track and keep the conversation collaborative and respectful.
Here are some potential rules to consider:
- Listen when others talk
- Don’t interrupt
- Everyone gets to contribute
- Wait your turn
- Be kind
- No technology
Once you’ve come up with your own set of family meeting rules, write them down. And ensure household members are clear on what rules mean.
If a rule is broken—as will invariably happen—restate the guideline using a neutral tone. And don’t forget to offer praise when rule-breakers subsequently get it right.
And a bonus pro tip—try using a “talking stick” or other object such as a stuffed animal to help with turn-taking. The family member holding the object gets to talk and others are expected to listen.
A toy microphone works well, but really any common household object will do.
My kids enjoy choosing an item from the kitchen drawer. The most popular utensil? A wooden spoon.
If you have long-winded family members, a timer can also prove useful. It limits talking time without a family member having to police this (i.e., you can blame the timer for ending the turn).
A timer can also help you pace the meeting, to ensure you get through the essential components within the predetermined time frame.
Step 4: Outline a clear plan
By this point, you’ve established the meeting topic, named your family, and set the ground rules.
You’re now ready to go through the plan in a specific and stepwise fashion. This is a very important step as breaking things down—and delivering information clearly—helps children understand what’s expected of them.
Let’s return to the bedtime example to illustrate how setting a clear plan might look for a 4-year-old.
- After dinner, it’s time to go upstairs to get ready for bed
- You’ll brush your teeth with help
- Then it’s bath time
- After the bath, you’ll put on PJs
- Then it’s time for 2 stories on your bed
- After stories, you’ll get 3 kisses and 2 hugs
- You’ll get your body ready for sleep by snuggling under the covers and hugging your stuffed animal
- Mommy or daddy will tuck you in, turn off the lights, then leave your room
- In the morning, we’ll come back to your room when it’s time to get out of bed
- At breakfast, we’ll celebrate what went well
The point here, is to design a routine that works well for your family. And the particular steps—including level of adult involvement with the routine—will vary depending on your child/children’s age and developmental level.
As you go through each step of the new routine, children can glue related pictures onto the poster. If you have budding artists in the family, have them lend their artistic talents. And kids or adults can add related words and phrases to the poster for added clarity.
I’ve included an example of how the routine poster might look, below.
Find opportunities to give kids a say
As you come up with the plan, try to find places to seek your child’s input and offer some autonomy.
For example, let’s say toothbrushing is always a vexing part of the bedtime routine. By exploring this further with your child, you may find out that a frequently misplaced toothbrush and dislike for mint toothpaste are getting in the way of successful toothbrushing.
This opens doors to exploring solutions. For example, a designated spot for your child’s toothbrush and trialing different types of toothpaste are potentially helpful next steps. As a bonus, these are solutions your child can help generate.
You can also offer children autonomy over certain aspects of the routine. For example, you can give your child the choice of reading two books or singing two songs before bed.
A word of caution, however. Only offer choices that you can live with and keep the number of options to a developmentally appropriate number.
For kids less than 3 years of age, stick to two options. For older kids, use you best judgment. There’s good evidence that kids and adults, alike, do better with fewer decisions. So keep this in mind with offering your child choices.
We also want to keep things specific, such as clearly indicating the number of books or songs that will occur before bedtime. The last thing we want is a power struggle over the number of books right before tuck in.
Once you’ve established the new routine, consider having your child repeat the steps back to you. If needed, the poster can serve as a helpful guide when it comes to re-iterating the routine.
Step 5: Establish family responsibilities
Now that you have a clear plan, it’s time to dole out responsibilities to all family members.
By including everyone, we avoid singling out individuals and send the important message that success depends on all family members doing their part.
Similar to other stages of this process, we’ll want to ensure assigned responsibilities are developmentally appropriate.
For example, an older child can be tasked with getting through the bedtime routine independently by 8:30 p.m. whereas a preschooler can be given the responsibility of cooperating with parents to complete the bedtime routine by 7 p.m.
And what about parents?
Consider your role in bedtime routine struggles and come up with a related adult responsibility. For example, your rule may be that you’ll no longer run interference as your older child goes through their night-time routine. Or it could be that you’ll remain calm and patient as you help younger children prepare for bed.
Feel free to add pictures of family members (photos, clip art, or sketches will do) to the poster and write down related responsibilities.
Step 6: Ready, set, go!
Once you’ve gone through family responsibilities, you’re ready to put your plan into action.
Close the meeting by reinforcing the benefits of the new routine. This can include general perks such as working together towards a shared goal and the sense of pride we feel when taking on new responsibilities.
You can also highlight issue-specific benefits such as less family conflict around bedtime and a better rested household that can do more fun activities together.
Consider going through a practice run (i.e., walking through the steps of a new bedtime routine) and providing training as needed around particular tasks (i.e., brushing teeth properly).
Optimizing your home environment for success is another great step towards a successful plan. For example, you may want to re-home distracting bedroom toys to a new location, ensure bedtime clothes are easily accessible, and have a bin of bedtime stories ready for reading.
Lastly, end the family meeting on a positive note.
This can include each household member saying something positive about another family member or something they’re looking forward to during the upcoming week.
After the meeting is done, do a fun activity together such as watching a show, having a family dance party, playing a board game, or sharing a special meal or snack.
And don’t forget to schedule another meeting in a week’s time to check in on your progress!
Follow-up meetings are a great opportunity to review your family’s progress, celebrate successes no matter how small, and to work together to find solutions to challenges.
Ready to try a family meeting?
Now that you’ve read through the steps of a family meeting, it’s time to schedule your first get-together!
Here’s a recap of the key steps (and sub-steps) to holding a family meeting:
Step 1: Get on the same page as other caregivers
Step 2: Prepare for the family meeting
- Determine ideal timing and length of meeting
- Consider how to help children successfully participate
Step 3: Start the meeting:
- Establish the purpose of the family meeting
- Begin meeting with a fun activity
- Come up with meeting ground rules
Step 4: Outline a clear plan
- Find opportunities for kids to have a say
Step 5: Establish family responsibilities
Step 6: Ready, set, go!
Like any new parenting strategy, family meetings will be an evolving process. So, it’s super important to approach these gatherings with the mindset of progress not perfection.
Also, adopting new routines and responsibilities takes practice. So, expect a learning curve for all family members and don’t forget to celebrate the little victories along the way.
You’ve got this!
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you tried holding a family meeting? If yes, how did it go?
If you haven’t held a family meeting, do you think you’ll try this parenting tool in the future?