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How do we start holding family meetings with our 8 year old?

How do we start holding family meetings with our 8 year old?

Dear Meghan: I would like to hold family meetings like you mentioned in your columns so we can talk and socialize. We are a family of three and my son is 8 years old. Can you give us some guidance on how to hold these meetings, how often they should be held and what we should discuss?

Meet: I love this question, thanks for posting! Family meetings are one of my favorite tools to teach parents because yes, they help things run more smoothly in a family and they really are a tool for strong connection. The book I like and recommend here is “The Family Meeting Handbook” by Katherine Foldes. It is very readable, practical and straightforward and that is what all parents need when starting a new technique.

One of the most common mistakes parents make is using the family meeting as a way to “get things done,” and of course! There are chores and schedules and homework and camp dates, but if we ignore a child’s basic need to be heard, we will face resistance… lots of it. Never forget: The family meeting is a means of connection.

The first step of any family meeting is announcing that you are starting a family meeting. This may seem obvious, but you need to approach it with some formality to signal to everyone that this is something your family is committed to. “We are starting the Turner Family Reunion. This meeting is to _______ and make sure everyone is heard and seen. We will hold this meeting daily/weekly/monthly.” Have a notebook handy for meeting notes, but be prepared that the first meeting will be just this announcement. You can ask your child to help set the rules for the meeting. It might sound like, “No interruptions, one topic at a time, and always ending with fun.” Make it your own.

I recommend starting every family meeting with an icebreaker and ending each meeting with something fun. A good icebreaker for an 8-year-old might be asking what everyone is interested in these days. Yes, parents are expected to contribute too, since they are part of the family. In our kid-obsessed culture, it’s good for your child to see that you are a real person with interests and a life. You can also appoint the child as the “secretary” of the meeting and take notes (or not). The fun moment to end can be strawberries and whipped cream, a game of Uno, a dance party – whatever you think is easiest and most enjoyable for your family. The family meeting is meant to make your life easier, not harder, so don’t complicate it.

Once the basic framework of the family meeting is secure (and for some families, this can take a long time, which is perfectly fine), you can start adding more topics. For example, chores. “So, Kendrick, there are about a million things that need to be done in this house to keep things running smoothly, and in a family, we all need to pitch in. Let’s figure out together how you can help”; and you begin the arduous and rewarding back and forth until everyone in the family agrees to the plan. Of course, it would be easier to “tell” your son exactly what to do and when, but I find that invites resistance and assumes that your son doesn’t want to be useful (which people do). Whatever you decide is written down and discussed again at the next family meeting, and everything you decide, will change as your child and family grow older.

Other topics for the family meeting include the daily/weekly/monthly schedule, meal planning, homework, discussing extracurricular activities, discussing difficult experiences (diagnoses, moving, etc.), adult topics, and finally planning recreational activities. It may sound crazy, but fun is in short supply these days. Parents can get so caught up in raising their children that they forget to really enjoy them. The family meeting is one way to make sure you plan your fun, whether it’s a vacation or popsicles.

If you’re consistent, family meetings can be the most powerful way to connect with your entire family. It can prevent disagreements and ensure that (most) needs are heard and met. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s pretty darn close. Keep having the meetings, even if you get off track. Keep going, and good luck.