This post is a comprehensive guide to family meetings. For specific guidance on getting kids on board with new routines and parental expectations, I suggest you check out my post: Wishing for more cooperative kids? Host a family meeting.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is a pretty unlucky character. He’s condemned to push a boulder up a mountain only to see it fall back down.
Sisyphus repeats this futile attempt over and over again—never enjoying the fruits of his labour and … basically never getting any rest.
Do you ever feel like Sisyphus when it comes to family matters?
I know I do.
Modern family life is often busy—too busy—and it’s hard to keep household members on the same page.
And that’s where family meetings come in.
These planned family gatherings can be likened to an essential tool in your parenting toolkit—one that is assured to make family life more cheerful, cohesive, and cooperative.
Sounds good, right?
This post will equip you will all the essentials to host successful family meetings and put this valuable parenting tool into action.
Ready for get those parenting boulders successfully up the hill?
PART 1: Family meeting basics
What is a family meeting?
In a nutshell, family meetings involve gathering your household together to discuss a topic of mutual interest.
When I first heard about this parenting tool, I was somewhat skeptical. I found myself wondering—are family meetings really worth the extra work? And would they work for my family?
You may have doubts, too.
And I get it.
There’s already so much to do and only so much time.
So, why squeeze yet another commitment into our already overpacked schedules—especially an activity kids may initially resist?
The importance of family meetings
Family meetings require effort but they also offer numerous benefits for the entire family. So many, in fact, that it’s worth giving these planned get-togethers a try.
And once you see these perks in action, I expect you’ll never look back.
So, without further delay, let’s take at look at some of the key benefits of family meetings:
- Help families prioritize time together
- Give children the opportunity to practice goal setting, developing plans, and problem-solving
- Foster family coordination, communication, and connection
- Teach kids that they’re important members of the family—that the household can’t run smoothly without them
- Increase the likelihood that children will cooperate with new rules and routines
- Foster a growth mindset where problems and mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow
- Celebrate successes no matter how small
- Teach kids about perspective-taking, compromise, and cooperation
- Help children build confidence when it comes to voicing their opinions in front of others
- Encourage kids to see their family as a valuable source of support when problems arise
The more frequently we hold family meetings, the more of these benefits we’ll enjoy. Which leads us to another question.
How often should your household gather?
Do we have to meet regularly?
Planned family get-togethers are worthwhile regardless of frequency. However, meeting more rather than less has multiple advantages.
When we do things over and over again—including family meetings—they become automatic.
This means less resistance. With time, kids realize that these household gatherings will occur—despite protest—just like other parts of daily life such as attending school and doing chores.
Family meetings are also more likely to run smoothly and be productive when practiced regularly, as is true for any other skill.
Oh, and yet another bonus?
More consistent meetings can reduce conflict and complaints throughout the week.
Because, over time, kids begin to see family meetings as a more effective way to err their grievances and find solutions to their problems.
Should family meetings occur weekly?
If you’re thinking of holding regular meetings, you’re likely wondering if there’s an ideal frequency.
Ultimately, this is a personal decision—one based on the time available and what you hope to accomplish during family meetings.
But I suggest aiming for weekly get-togethers to help make family meetings routine.
Consider pairing the meeting with an already well-established fun family event, such as prior to a regularly scheduled family movie night.
Concluding the meeting with a shared enjoyable activity is a great way to celebrate your hard work. This post get-together “reward” also makes it more likely you’ll have another meeting the following week.
Regardless of family meeting frequency, try to schedule these get-togethers when family members are likely to be well rested and not in a rush.
And you’ll want to prioritize family meetings like other important commitments, such as you would a dentist or doctor appointment.
Life will sometimes get in the way, as it invariably does. But well-established routines are more likely to withstand the demands of modern family life.
What do you talk about in a family meeting?
There are lots of reasons to hold family meetings.
Really, anything that relates to your household is fair game. These family meeting topics include:
- Parent-driven concerns (e.g., hectic mornings, difficult bedtimes)
- Topics of interest to kids (e.g., desire to get a new pet, allowance)
- Family-related issues (e.g., planning an upcoming weekend or vacation)
You can also use family meetings to check in on everyone’s progress, coordinate schedules, or share news that impacts the entire household (e.g., a move, serious illness, new baby).
The main guiding rule is that family meetings should address issues that impacts the entire household rather than just one or a couple of family members.
It’s better to discuss concerns about an individual child privately rather than as a family unit.
Singling out family members in a group setting is more likely to build resentment and make for unpleasant—and unproductive—family gatherings.
Cover a variety of topics
And here’s another important of thumb when generating family meeting ideas.
Avoid using these gatherings to solely deal with parent-driven concerns or to delegate tasks. Kids will catch on and resist participating.
Can meetings serve as a tool to discuss household issues important to parents—such as new rules, expectations, and routines?
But when it comes to regularly scheduled family meetings, be sure to mix in opportunities for kids to voice their own concerns.
At this point we’ve covered the key basics of family meetings. Now it’s time to review how to host a successful meeting.
PART 2: Essential steps to holding successful family meetings
While there’s no single right way to hold a family meeting, there are several elements that help ensure meeting success.
Below, you’ll find three key steps (with substeps) that’ll help you get the most from your regular family meetings. Choose whichever components work best for your family.
And remember, it’s better to start small than not begin at all. For example, consider beginning by focusing on a single element and getting that down pat before moving onto other aspects.
Here are the three main stages of family meetings, along with substages. We’ll review each of these elements in more depth, below.
- Prepare for family meetings
- Gather information and topics beforehand
- Establish clarity and a united parental front
- Determine family meeting roles
- Agenda for family meeting
- Establish the purpose of family meetings
- Come up with a family name or family motto
- Start family meetings on a positive note
- Set family meeting ground rules
- Revisit old content first
- Raise and discuss new topics
- Come up with a general consensus
- Detail an action plan
- How to end family meetings
So now that we’ve got a shared framework for family meetings, let’s walk through the three key elements, one-by-one.
Step 1: Prepare for family meetings
Gather information and topics beforehand
The amount of preparation prior to family meetings depends on your reason for gathering.
For example, brainstorming summer vacation plans may require little to no research beforehand. You may wish to generate ideas at the meeting and do information gathering, later.
If you hold regular get-togethers, consider keeping a running tally of family meeting ideas you’d like to discuss.
You can do so by posting a list of family meeting topics on the fridge or in some other common household spot. If you’d like a free copy of the template below, click here.
Family members can jot ideas onto the list as they think of them throughout the week.
And when it’s meeting time—simply bring the topic list along.
Establish clarity and a united front on parent-driven concerns
For parent-driven concerns, such as getting kids successfully through mealtimes, make sure you’re clear on what you expect prior to the family meeting.
And if multiple caregivers are involved, aim for a united front before discussing new expectations with children.
For example, let’s say you’ve identified mornings as an issue. The kids are hard to get up, they can’t get ready in time, and you’re always leaving late.
Make sure you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to the problem areas and potential solutions before getting into these particulars with your kids.
This will help you deliver clear expectations and will substantially increase the likelihood of meeting success.
Determine family meeting roles
Kids are more likely to pay attention and follow along when they have clear meeting roles and related responsibilities.
For children who cannot read and write, consider gathering some craft materials before the family gathering. Items to consider include paper, markers, scissors, glue, and stickers. Printed clip-art and magazine clippings are also nice additions.
As the meeting progresses, youngsters can use the gathered craft items to decorate a poster. For example, if you’re talking about the steps in a new routine, kids can glue related pictures to the poster. This activity helps keep younger kids engaged and occupied.
Older kids can take on a variety of roles that include:
- Meeting scribe
- Rule upholder
- Meeting leader
Kids of all ages can take turns choosing the meeting ice breaker activity, refreshments, and post-meeting celebratory family activity.
For the first couple of meetings, it’s helpful for parents to lead. But once you’ve gotten meeting basics down pat, older children can take on a leadership role.
Consider assigning family meeting roles for a stretch of time, such as for a month. This gives household members the opportunity to practice and become more proficient at a specific task before moving onto another role.
And to help with clarity, consider making a list of roles and related responsibilities that’s readily available at meetings. This will help keep family members clear on what’s expected.
Step 2: Agenda for family meeting
Establish the purpose of family meetings
Start the meeting off by stating why everyone is gathered.
This may be a single topic or multiple topics, depending on the meeting objective, time allotted for the gathering, etc.
And ensure that you keep your words and your tone either neutral or upbeat.
For example, let’s say you’re getting together to discuss a new system of family chores. Stating, “We’re going to talk about working together to keep our home clean and tidy,” will likely go over better than, “I’m tired of doing everything myself.”
If every family member will be presenting a topic for discussion, use a more general opener.
For example, you could say: “We’re meeting to review important family business.”
Clearly stating the meeting purpose earmarks the gathering as different from other family events, such as shared meals or casual time together.
Come up with a family name or family motto
If it’s your family’s first meeting, consider coming up with a descriptive name and/or family motto.
For one-off meetings, you can generate a name tied to the meeting goal. For example, if family chores are the gathering aim, you can say something like, “We’re a family that works together to keep the house tidy so let’s call ourselves Team Helpers.”
If meetings are going to be a regular event, then you’ll likely want to choose a less specific name, but one that still reflects family values and priorities.
Let your children suggest names and add additional positive family descriptors such as, “We’re a family of explorers, memory makers, and crafters.”
The point here is to come up with a family name that creates a sense of a common identity and purpose.
A family motto or family vision statement serves a similar function. In this case, the motto or vision statement will speak to the values you want to cultivate at home.
For example, a household motto may go something like this: “We’re a family of helpers who are support and respect each another.” The declaration can be as short or as detailed as you’d like.
If you decide to craft a motto or vision statement, considering posting this somewhere prominent within your home. Also, have it accessible at family meetings.
Repeating your family name or motto is a great way to start each meeting. This is especially true if the name or motto reflects an idea of joint cooperation towards a common goal—the essence of what family meetings are all about.
Start family meetings on a positive note
It’s important to start meetings on an upbeat note, especially if the topics up for discussion have a negative undertone, such as chores or bedtime routines.
Consider beginning get-togethers with a positive ice breaker, such as a question that each family member can answer, in turn.
For example, you can ask everyone to say something they’re thankful for, offer kind words about another family member, or share something they’ve enjoyed during the past week.
If you find an ice breaker that works well, consider sticking with that particular meeting opener for a while. This gives kids a chance to practice the opener and collect related ice breaker ideas during the week prior to meetings.
Set ground rules for family meetings
Like the family name or motto, ground rules are worth establishing at the first family meeting.
These guidelines help get-togethers run smoothly and respectfully.
Looking for some ideas? Consider some of the following family meeting ground rules:
- Pay attention when others are talking
- Don’t interrupt
- Wait your turn
- Let everyone contribute
- Provide positive feedback
- Respect the opinion of others
- Be kind
- No electronic devices
Once agreed upon, write these rules down and keep them handy during family meetings.
Some households repeat the ground rules at the start of every meeting while others do not. There is no right or wrong approach here—it’s a matter of what works best for your family.
And a note to us parents when it comes to rule-following.
Little eyes are always watching, and our kids look to us for guidance. So, it’s super important that we—the adults—follow the rules and model the behaviours we want our kids to emulate.
While this may seem easy and obvious at first glance, it’s common for parents to take control and overspeak at family meetings.
So, try to be extra mindful of how often you’re talking and whether you’re giving children an opportunity to fully participate.
Revisit old content first
If you have regular family meetings, consider starting with issues that require follow-up or further resolution.
For example, let’s say, kids were assigned chores at the last family meeting. You can start this week’s gathering by checking in on their progress.
Always try to find some successes to celebrate (no matter how small) before working together to problem solve any trouble areas.
After addressing carryover meeting topics, you’re ready to move on to new agenda items.
Raise and discuss new topics
If you’re keeping a written record of family meeting topics, bring this to the get-together.
To help keep family gatherings timely, keep the number of agenda items to one or two. This is especially important for initial meetings. However, you can start tackling more issues per meeting once your family becomes more proficient.
For multiple topic meetings, I suggest letting kids go first. This will help children see family meetings as beneficial for all household members rather than a ruse to push their parent’s agenda.
For multiple child families, you can start this process by drawing names to determine the order of who speaks first to last. Alternatively, you can go in order of youngest to oldest child or vice versa.
When it comes to discussing agenda items, you’ll follow a similar process for single and multi-topic meetings.
A family member gets a minute or two to introduce their topic and explain its importance.
Subsequently, all other family member get a brief opportunity to weigh-in on the raised issue. Generally a minute or two per person will help keep meetings moving along at a reasonable pace.
Let kids contribute your thoughts, first, then move on to the grownups.
Have the meeting scribe write down all contributions (even outlandish ones so long as they don’t break meeting rules). The point here is to open the floor to all ideas and vet them afterwards.
Once every household member has had an opportunity to contribute, you’re ready to work towards a common plan.
Come up with a general consensus
There are multiple ways to decide on issues.
Whenever possible, aim to come up with a general consensus. However, differing opinions and compromise are part of family life.
If family members can’t initially agree, try using one of the following decision-making methods:
- Whittling down choices through repeat voting
- Popular vote
The criteria-based method involves eliminating options that don’t meet predetermined principles. For example, your family may decide that decisions must be relevant (to the issue), considerate, and reasonable (i.e., based on available family resources and schedules, etc.)
For example, let’s say you’re discussing adopting a pet and the ideas offered include: buying a trampoline, getting a cat, adopting a dog, or buying a shark.
Using the criteria-based method, certain options can be easily eliminated. Getting a trampoline is not relevant. Adopting a cat isn’t considerate if you have an allergic family member. And getting a shark is not reasonable unless you have a very large saltwater pool.
The criteria-based system has the added benefit of reinforcing core family values. However, you may end up with multiple viable options—requiring an additional approach.
The second decision-making strategy is whittling down choices through repeat voting. This approach starts with each family member choosing their favourite option. Ideas that aren’t chosen or that get the fewest votes are eliminated. This process is repeated until you end up with a preferred choice.
Lastly, with majority rule voting, the idea with the most votes from family members is the chosen path. This approach works well if there aren’t many options but can be tricky when multiple ideas are initially offered with no clear favourite.
If you have another method that works for your family, then use that. The options, above, are simply offered as a guide.
Sometimes parents will decide
It’s worth noting that decision-making this is not always a purely democratic process.
While every family member is given an opportunity to voice their ideas and preferences, you—the parent—are the ultimate decision-maker.
For example, if one child really wants to visit the family cottage, and the other is dead set on going to the water park, you may end up breaking the stalemate by going with their shared second choice, an overnight camping trip.
Or if your three kids agree unanimously on an 11pm bedtime, I expect you’ll still suggest something earlier—even if your kids outnumber adults 3:2.
The goal here is to try your best to come up with solution that seems most fair to all—something that every family can at least live with.
Detail an action plan
Once you’ve come up with a decision, it’s time to create an action plan. The action plan will include specific details about who is responsible for what and when certain tasks need to be completed.
During this step, avoid singling out individual family members by assigning responsibilities to everyone. By including the entire household, you send the message that family success depends on everyone contributing, parents too.
Once you have your final plan, get it down in writing and post it somewhere accessible for all family members to see.
The written plan can also serve as a useful reference when you review your family’s progress at the next meeting.
Step 3: How to end family meetings
So, you’re ready to launch your plan into action whether that’s starting a new bedtime routine, preparing for a new pet, moving forward with weekend plans, or some other family matter.
For family decisions involving a new routine or expectation, consider taking kids through a practice run (e.g., walking through the steps of a new bedtime routine) or setting a time to provide training as needed (e.g., for household chores).
Finish the meeting on a positive note. For example, family members can share something they’re looking forward to in the upcoming days.
Then move on to an enjoyable celebratory family activity immediately after the meeting concludes. Some potential ideas include watching a movie, playing a game, or eating a favourite meal together.
And don’t forget to schedule another meeting in a week’s time, especially if you’ve set a plan in motion that will require follow-up.
PART 3: Family meeting questions & roadblocks
In this section, we’ll tackle some of the common questions and roadblocks that arise when implementing family meetings.
There’s so much to learn. Where do we start?
This is a comprehensive guideline intended to help you with all aspects of family meetings.
But don’t feel pressured to do all steps at every meeting and certainly not from the get-go.
Meetings will take practice. So keep things simple at first.
For example, you can use the first meeting to come up with a family name or motto and the second to develop a shared set of rules.
Once your family has these components down pat, you can move on to practicing and refining another aspects of family meetings.
Where should we meet?
This is entirely up to you! But convenience is an important factor.
For example, hosting meetings at a table has a number of advantages. It provides a surface to place meeting documents, to write on, and to hold drinks and snacks.
However, your family may prefer to gather in the living room or another comfortable spot.
Another possibility is to hold family meetings somewhere outside the home such as at a café or restaurant. This can add an element of novelty although may also come with less certainty about ideal seating and potential distractions.
Can young children attend family meetings?
Even young children, such as toddlers and preschoolers, can benefit from family meetings.
They’ll learn about turn-taking and shared decision-making. Also, the earlier kids join in, the more likely they’ll see family meetings as a normal—and helpful—part of household routines.
Just remember to keep the meetings short if young children are participating. And offer developmentally appropriate opportunities for youngsters to participate.
Making a meeting poster and helping with snacks are potential roles for kids under five. As is the case for all family members, youngsters should be given an opportunity to voice their thoughts.
Should we keep meeting notes?
This is also entirely up to you. If you choose to keep notes, find a notebook where you can record family meeting minutes.
The person acting as meeting scribe can record notes as the get-together progresses. Details to include are your family’s name or motto, meeting rules and roles, ideas raised, decisions made, delegated responsibilities, and the family action plan.
This record is also useful for future meetings so bring the family meeting minutes notebook to all gatherings.
Family meetings stretch on too long
Make sure you go into the meeting with a clear sense of the agenda.
And even with an agenda in mind, it’s easy for meetings to get out of hand. This is especially true if complex or multiple issues are being discussed.
If you’re finding meetings stretch on for too long, consider cutting back on what you cover or chunking bigger issues into smaller pieces—bite-sized chunks that that can be addressed on separate occasions.
But regardless of the approach you choose, stick to the allotted time. If you haven’t resolved an issue, stop at a logical point and pick-up where you left off at the next meeting.
And remember, it’s okay to start small!
Like anything in life, the more we practice meetings, the more efficient this process will become.
Life is too busy for family meetings
I get it. I really do. There is always so much to do and never enough time.
The thing is, family meetings will ultimately make your life easier. Think of it like a savings account. The time you invest in these get-togethers now will pay itself forward, many times over.
And to help ensure you invest in this “family bank account,” I suggest making meetings non-negotiable just as you would a doctor’s appointment.
Also, consider tying family meetings with something you already routinely do. For example, if your family enjoys pizza on Friday nights, tack on an extra 30 minutes beforehand to review family business.
Family meetings aren’t going as planned
It helps to go into family meetings with reasonable expectations.
Like most aspects of parenting, things are unlikely to go smoothly—at least, not at first. But with practice and tweaking, you’ll find a system that works well for your unique family.
We’re all learning and growing. When we let go of the idea of a perfect family meeting, we can better relax into the process. And when we’re relaxed, meetings are more likely to be fun and productive.
Kids won’t participate in family meetings
While we want all family members present, we don’t want to force participation.
When we make children attend meetings, they’re unlikely to benefit. Unwilling participants may also make it hard for other family members to enjoy—and benefit from—meetings.
If your child refuses to participate, start by exploring what’s getting in the way. Just be sure to take a curious nonjudgemental approach rather than an accusatory stance.
Also keep these guidelines in mind:
- Don’t let meetings run overtime
- Hold regular family meetings so they become part of your family routine
- Have clear rules, including around respectful communication
- Don’t use meetings to single out a particular family member; the topics discussed should be relevant to everyone
- Let kids offer their ideas first, adults second
- Avoid making meetings mostly about setting new routines and divvying out responsibilities
- Scheduling meetings when family members are well rested and not rushed
- Add an incentive such as a fun meeting snack
- End meetings with a reward such as doing a fun activity together
And if my child still refuses to participate?
While punitive measures may bring short term compliance, this comes at a cost.
So rather than force participation, let your children know you’d really like them to join—and that they’re welcome to start participating when ready.
Chances are your children will get curious and be enticed to join meetings at some point, especially when they realize that meetings are deciding matters that impact them.
And remember—your reaction to your child’s resistance is super important. If you consistently model calmness and respect, your child is more likely to do the same.
Rules are being broken
First, you’ll want to ensure that ground rules are firmly established. This includes making sure family members are clear about what each rule means. You may also find repeating rules at the start of meetings helps.
We want to avoid everyone pointing fingers. So with this in mind, choose one person to keep track of rule infractions.
To begin with, a parent should take on this role. But once your household gets into the swing of family meetings, older children can become the designated rule enforcer.
When rules are broken, point this out with a neutral tone then look for opportunities to praise rule abiding behaviour. We want to focus on grows. So, keep the emphasis on positive versus negative meeting interactions.
Family members aren’t waiting their turn
Try a technique called “pass the microphone.” The person holding the microphone is the one who does the speaking. Everyone else needs to wait their turn.
A toy microphone will do or you can use a common household object such as a wooden spoon. In our house, kitchen utensils have sufficed as has a piece of construction paper I crudely folded into a long rectangular shape. It wasn’t Pinterest-worthy, but it worked!
Even better, have you children craft a pretend microphone. They’ll be more invested in using something they’ve made themselves.
Regardless of what you use, the point here is to have a visual cue that draws everyone’s attention to the speaker and helps that person feel in control.
The microphone can be passed around in a sequence or based on raised hands. You can also use a timer if you have longwinded family members to help keep the meeting on track.
My kids are struggling to share positive thoughts
I’ve been there, too.
When we first started using positive openers like, “What are you most thankful for?” my middle child would give off the wall answers like, “Eating the chair.” My knee-jerk reaction was to reject these answers and push for a parent-approved response.
But I knew he simply needed time to get used to the idea.
So how did we end up approaching the situation?
Sometimes, we’d respond with a modified version such as, “Oh, you’re thankful to have something to eat.” And sometimes we’d simply nod in acknowledgement then move on to another family member.
As frustrating as this experience was, our middle child now often initiates positive openers.
Unkind words, however, cannot be overlooked. If your child says something mean, it’s important to set a clear limit then and there.
Remind her of the meeting ground rules, clearly explaining what can and cannot be said. Then watch closely for a positive interaction and acknowledge these positive behaviours when they occur.
You’re ready for family meetings
Family life involves a lot of moving parts and it’s common to find ourselves feeling uncoordinated and overwhelmed.
But there’s a valuable parenting tool that’ll help with this situation—family meetings.
This post has provided you with a potential blueprint for family meeting success. However, feel free to tweak my recommendations so they work best for your unique family.
And, most importantly, go into this new practice with a sizeable dollop of patience!
Like all skills, holding successful family meetings will take time. So, approach these gatherings with the mindset of progress not perfection.
Every step forward counts.
And with practice, you’re household will be enjoying the benefits of family meetings in no time.
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?