Family Meetings to Increase Democracy and the 4 C’s
Last week I wrote about the importance of a healthy and strong parent-child relationship. This week I’m expanding this topic to discuss how one can promote a healthy and strong bond between all family members.
What is a Family Meeting?
Family meetings are a wonderful routine and intervention from Adlerian psychology. In the wonderful book, Honey I Wrecked the Kids! by Adlerian Counsellor/Parenting Expert, Alyson Schafer, she describes in full-detail the purpose of family meetings, their content and benefits (p.219). She highly recommends that family meetings occur on a weekly basis on the same day and at the same time. For example, after Sunday dinner. A family meeting is a place where appreciation is shown, fun family activities are planned, problem-solving takes place, schedules and chores are discussed and new business is brought up for consideration.
What are the Benefits of Family Meetings?
Family meetings are a way for all members of the family to feel empowered. They teach life-long problem solving skills and democracy. We all know that children follow rules better when they take ownership and feel acknowledged as part of the decision-making process. Family meetings give everyone a greater sense of belonging and develop life-long positive communication skills. In her book, Alyson Schafer outlines the 4 crucial C’s from the work of Betty Lou Bettner: (Reference: Bettner, B.L. & Lew, A. (1989). Raising Kids Who Can. Newton Ctr MA: Connexionx Press.)
- Connection, Courage, Capable, Count. A child’s self-concept is healthy when he/she feels connected and has a sense of belonging
- Courage to handle what comes
- Feels counted – his/her contributions do make a difference
- Capable – I am competent and I can manage
Family meetings help the child who is discouraged and therefore engaging in negative-attention seeking behaviours, or power-seeking behaviours, or the hurt revenge-seeking child, or the child who is feeling deeply inadequate.
How to Begin the Tradition of a Family Meeting?
It’s important to get “family meetings” off to a good start, therefore start slowly, keep the meeting short, give the kids lots of “air-time” and ensure it’s a positive experience.
Start by making popcorn together as a fun way to set the tone
Find a creative “talking stick”. For example, according to the First Nations tradition, an eagle feather gives the courage and wisdom to speak truthfully and wisely. One could tie an an eagle feather to a stick
Light a candle
Create a schedule of who will be the “Chair person” for the first meeting and subsequent meetings
In this “Stage One” of introducing the family meeting, focus on appreciation (Eg. What went well for our family this week?) and planning a fun family event (Chair person asks “What are we going to do for family fun this week?”). Just these two agenda items – no more!
This first meeting will teach how to take turns with the talking stick, how to solve a problem (where to go on a family outing), how to reach consensus and how to chair a meeting.
For problem solving, encourage all family members to brainstorm (all suggestions allowed), evaluate and then by consensus decide on a plan
Secretary to write down all ideas
Evaluate based on time, budget, travel logistics etc.
Use a show of hands to see if you are close to consensus, reminding everyone that an activity that’s not chosen for the upcoming week could still be chosen for a following week
Figure out who will do which jobs for making the family outing happen (Eg. research on the internet, packing snacks, packing the car etc.)
At the next family meeting, when you begin your appreciation, include what went well at the last family fun outing. Remember even the smallest members of the family can be included in a high-chair with some snacks to keep him/her going. One day he/she will be old enough to have his/her voice count too.
Stage Two : Adding New Business and Addressing the Bigger Problems
Once you are in a routine with family meetings and feel confident that you are ready for the next step, you can add the bigger problems. These are problem-solving difficulties that your children are having difficulty with NOT problems you are having with your children. Eg. Johnny wants more computer time, Tessa wants a pet hamster, Peter wants to sign up for a new extra-curricular activity. As part of the consensus you do have a say but, instead of saying “no” to something right away you need to explain your concerns and rationale.
Stage Three: Solving the Intense Family Problems
By now you should have been holding regular family meetings with success and are therefore ready for the “full-meal-deal”. This is the stage where you are now ready to keep a list of concerns on the fridge where everyone can write down problems as they crop up. This is the list that gets brought to the family meetings and may include items such as curfews, homework, piano practice, sibling fights, disrespectful talk etc. This is the stage where parents can now add to the list of concerns as well. Now you can see why it is so important to build up these family meetings and keep the momentum positive.
A Family Meeting Outline
Below is a Family Meeting outline (Stage 3), that Jim Skinner, Executive Director, of the Vancouver Adler Centre has kindly given me permission to share with you.
Family Meeting Format
- Preparation: Clear the table
- Light a candle
- Take the “Concerns” off the fridge for the Chairperson
- Have the Format for the meeting on a 4 x 8 card.
- Have a minutes of the meeting book.
- Call to order
- Minutes of the last meeting
- Concerns/Issues – come with a solution
- Family tasks
- Family Fun event
- Next meeting chairperson _____ and recorder ________
- Use consensus: if no agreement then stick to what parents are now doing
- Everyone has an equal voice
- Must be a safe place to raise issues.
- Write down all agreements
- Use co-operative problem solving model
- Lead by listening – not lecturing
- Follow through on all decisions
- Set a regular time – those at the meeting get to decide
- Don’t seek to dominate or seek perfection
Have a fun and democratic week,
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