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A Bonding Tradition
Family meetings are a great way to promote meaningful family communication and have a lot of fun.

When it comes to parenting, there are some traditions I just can't live without. Sunday afternoon naps, freeze-ahead school lunches, and gift openings in bed are high on the list, but my all-time favourite has to be the family meeting.

I love family meetings. Absolutely love them. They're a great way to promote meaningful family communication and they're a ton of fun.

Family meetings can be used to solve problems, make decisions or plan events. Ray and I have held them to discuss everything from what to do on a rainy holiday afternoon, to when the kids can get a Facebook account, to where and when they're allowed to burp. Our children have called meetings when they've wanted to switch chores, to rally for a later bed time, and when they thought they should be allowed to go to the corner store on Sundays.

Unifying events

No two family meetings are ever alike. We've laughed our way through some, fought our way through others, and cried our way through one or two. But the end result is always the same: we all feel better connected, and cooperation within our family grows.

Family meetings build unity by giving kids a say in how their family operates. The benefit of this is that everyone feels that they are important. Our ten-year-old daughter Kelly is fond of family meetings because she likes "to be able to put in (her) opinion." The middle of five children and quiet by nature, Kelly doesn't always get heard in our often chaotic home. Family meetings give her a voice, an opportunity to share her insights or thoughts, a chance to really feel that she belongs.

Family meetings also encourage cooperation. Kids are more likely to stick to rules they've had a say in making, more apt to follow through on decisions they take ownership in. And, as family pride is built, siblings are more likely to promote the happiness and welfare of each other. This helps mold the family into something God intended it to be: a place where everyone "love(s) one another deeply, from the heart." I Peter 1:22

Start early

It's easiest to initiate family meetings when children are young. If your kids are mostly in their teen years when you pitch the idea, you'll probably encounter resistance. But later is better than never, so if you're determined to make this work for your family, do so now — with the help of a few tips we've learned through experience.

At your first family meeting establish some specific ground rules. A few examples: everyone must be respectful, no electronics allowed, and all family members have to be present. Make sure the consequence for not following the rules is clear, and confirm that each child knows the rules apply to them.

During family meetings it's important that every member of the family has a chance to have their say. Even the youngest kids should be given an opportunity to talk. What a three-or four-year-old shares may have nothing to do with the topic on hand, but the fact that they're participating — and being taken seriously — will make them feel that they're an integral part of the family.

Orderly process

When we have a family meeting we go around the room and ask for everyone's input. Whoever's turn it is to speak holds what we call a talking stick. We got this idea from a movie and it works like a charm. When someone is holding the talking stick (wooden spoon, stuffed animal, pen, etc.) they've got the floor. No one — including Ray and I — may interrupt. This ensures the speaker gets undivided attention and, as a bonus, it teaches the younger children to take turns.

It's a good idea to assign a chairperson for your meetings and to keep the meetings relatively short. Be flexible and follow your family's lead. Depending on the topic, attentions will start to wander at different times.

Conclude your meetings by noting some positive things about each family member — Kelly's really been practicing her violin, Tia's done a great job being cooperative in the mornings and then praying together. As the saying goes, the family that prays together stays together.

Family meetings are an excellent way to establish core values and teach your kids how to work with other people to make decisions. By adding meetings to your regular routine, you'll make your household run smoother and you'll help your children participate successfully in society.

Good luck with this awesome tradition. Let me know how it goes. Meeting adjourned.

Denise Dykstra regularly holds family meetings with her husband, Ray, and kids, Sean, Jamie, Kelly, Tia and Damien. She's a freelance writer who lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

Originally published in the Christian Courier, June 8, 2009.




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