Nine-year-old and seven-year-old brothers who live in London ran recently for class representatives to their school council. Each had to make a speech informing their classmates of what they proposed to do as representatives.
One of the reasons the nine-year-old gave to his classmates to encourage them to vote for him was that he would try to make changes in the school dinners, (as they refer to school lunch in England) which he felt needed improvement. He asked for suggestions and told the students anyone who wanted to contact him and share their ideas could find him“on the playground”.
I enjoyed this story not only because these two young fellows are my great-nephews, but because I love it when children have the opportunity to share some control – some say in their life.
I encourage families I talk with to think seriously about offering this opportunity to their children at home through family meetings. Some families hold meetings weekly to review plans for the upcoming week or discuss issues that have developed from sibling disagreements to defining screen time or homework schedules.
The trick in making family meetings work, however, is that they are about cooperative problem solving, respectful give and take, and rotation of family members leading the meetings. What it’s not about are the parents lecturing to the kids about what’s gone wrong and how they better listen up and fix it.
Part of the family meeting should be a time to share a fun activity, make plans for family events, play a game, enjoy a special treat, share each other’s news.
When children, even from a young age (the younger the ages, the briefer the meetings) are exposed to listening to others’ views while having the chance to be listened to, respectfully, we are providing them with strong skills to succeed and communicate.
How empowering for an eight-year-old to come up with a suggestion that the whole family agrees to try – or what a moment for the youngest in the family to have the whole family’s attention while he speaks – and they listen.
When siblings are complaining and fussing about each other – just tell them “I hear you. Put it on the agenda for the family meeting.” When that particular subject comes up at the family meeting, everyone gets their turn to have their say until an idea is agreed upon to try.
Just stop and think of the many issues that have come up, turned into a power struggle or rift between siblings that might have been addressed at a family meeting.
I think when children have access to this sense of belonging, connection, and contribution that comes from participating in a family meeting, all members will develop a heightened awareness, ownership, responsibility and trust toward the “workings” of the family.
I met a parent this weekend, while having a bite in a restaurant, who I have known and worked with professionally and who is a strong advocate for family meetings and family mission statements. She had her whole family with her and I got to meet them all. I could tell there was something special about these two young boys – their polite, quiet confidence, the direct look in their eyes as they spoke. You could tell they were used to being listened to, included, respected.
Why not try it in your family? Starting meetings when children are at a young age, by the time kids are in middle and high school, they will have learned to appreciate the value of speaking for themselves, listening to others concerns and respecting the differences.
Give me a call at The Parenting Place, 608-784-8125, if you’d like more information or some gentle support to get Family Meetings going (and growing) at your house.