TIPS FOR PARENTS
Do you and your family pass like ships in the night, communicating via Post-it notes, texts and e-mails, even when you're in the same house?
If this approach leaves you wanting, perhaps it's time to give family meetings a try. Even if you already make face-time a priority, you might find the structure of regular family meetings useful.
Not sure you want to add another appointment to your already jammed planner? Try it, you'll like it. It might surprise you how much.
Regularly scheduled family meetings, even in families with one child, can help to promote communication and harmony. You'll discover ways to make them work best for your family, but consider these suggestions:
Aim for consistency. Weekly meetings at the same time and place work well for most families and should be kept, even if there appears to be no compelling reason for one. Nobody will take them seriously if they are often cancelled or rescheduled, so pick a time you're more likely to keep. This way, when issues crop up that need attention, there will already be a mechanism in place for sorting them out productively. Sunday evenings after dinner work well for my brood.
Keep a running list of agenda items on your refrigerator for everyone to contribute to and consider before the next family meeting. Brainstorm vacation plans, map out the week's schedule of chores and appointments and call attention to those things over the past week that you wish to celebrate and reinforce. Mentioning these joys on your meeting agenda can be a great motivator.
Your first meeting should be brief-aim for about 15 minutes-and is the time to establish ground rules: no shouting, take turns speaking, etc. No one should be left out. After the first few, which parents can take turns chairing (deciding when to move on to the next agenda item after checking in with each family member to ensure they feel heard), the kids can also take turns at making sure the meetings run smoothly.
I find that families who make family meetings work for them are prone to fewer emotional dramas because concerns tend not to fester. In other words, the more family members get used to trusting that there will be a time and a place for their concerns to be heard, the less likely they are to act out their frustrations.
This is a big deal. Families who successfully use family meetings as a communication tool report boosts in their sense of well-being and individual self-esteem, as well as increased security and confidence in themselves and their families to collaborate and problem-solve in constructive and emotionally safe ways.
Above all, family meetings have the power to teach children that "being heard" is valuable. Learning this sets them up to expect this in future relationships, a benefit with obvious rewards, for generations to come.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.