Jane - How old do you suggest children be to start family meetings? My boys are 3 1/2 and 5 years old. I'd like to start family meetings to discuss issues that need to be addressed and get the boys involved, but I'm thinking they may be too young. Thanks.
Hi Julie, Your 5-year-old is definitely old enough. Only you will be able to tell if the 3 1/2 year old is old enough? The magic age seems to be 4. It is very important to start family meetings as soon after 4 as possible so children start learning to use their power in useful ways and to develop the belief, "I am capable." This will eliminate many power struggles, and 4-year-olds are so good at problem-solving when given the opportunity.
You might find the following excerpt from Positive Discipline handy for getting started:
Why have Family Meetings?
Holding regular Family Meetings is one of the most valuable things you can do as a family. Why? Family Meetings provide an opportunity to teach children valuable social and life skills for good character.
They will learn:
- Listening skills
- Brainstorming skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Mutual respect
- The value of cooling off before solving a problem. (Problems are put on the weekly challenges pages 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
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
If parents really understood the value of family meetings, it would be their most valuable parenting tool–and they would make every effort to schedule 15 to 30 minutes a week for family meetings.
Family Meeting Agenda
- Evaluate last week’s solutions
- Focus on solutions for this week’s challenges
- Meal Planning Calendar
- Weekly planning such as events, who needs rides, etc.
- Family togetherness event planning (including special time)
- Family Fun Activity (game, treats, etc.)
Each component of the agenda is important. Start with compliments for several reasons:
- Compliments create a positive atmosphere
- Children learn to be “good finders” when they look for and verbalize the things they appreciate about family members.
- Children usually fight less when they participate in regular family meetings beginning with compliments.
- It is important to have each member of the family give a compliment to every other member of the family so everyone feels a sense of belonging and significance.
- Remember that compliments may sound awkward in the beginning. They get better with practice.
You will create a positive atmosphere in your family when everyone learns to look for the good in each other and to verbalize positive comments. Please don’t expect perfection. Some sibling squabbling is normal. However, when children (and parents) learn to give and receive compliments, negative tension is reduced considerably. Of course, a positive atmosphere is increased even more when families have regular family meetings to find solutions to problems.
Family Meeting Jobs
Recorder: Be sure to have someone write down all the ideas that are brainstormed. It is so much fun to look at these ideas later – as much fun as looking at old family picture albums. Circle the solution that works for everyone. Consensus is important in family meetings. If you can reach consensus, table this item and try again next week.
Chairperson: Rotate this job so everyone has a chance to be the “person in charge”. The Chairperson calls the meeting to order, asks for compliments to begin, and handles the Weekly Challenges page by announcing the next challenge to be solved and following the rest of the agenda.
Timekeeper: A timekeeper can keep everyone on track so the meeting doesn’t go on and on and get boring.
Do's and Don'ts for Successful Family Meetings
- Remember the long-range purpose: To teach valuable life skills.
- Post an agenda where family members can write their concerns or problems.
- Start with compliments to set the tone by verbalizing positive things about each other.
- Brainstorm for solutions to problems. Choose one suggestion (by consensus) that is practical and respectful and try it for a week.
- Focus on solutions, not blame
- Calendar a family fun activity for later in the week – and all sports and other activities (including a chauffeur schedule).
- Keep family meetings short 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the ages of your children. End with a family fun activity, game, or dessert.
- Use family meetings as a platform for lectures and parental control.
- Allow children to dominate and control. (Mutual respect is the key.)
- Skip weekly family meetings. (They should be the most important date on your calendar.)
- Forget that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.
- Forget that learning skills takes time. Even solutions that don't work provide an opportunity to learn and try again—always focusing on respect and solutions.
- Expect children under the age of four to participate in the process. (If younger children are too distracting, wait until they are in bed.)