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Having a Family Meeting

created by Gayle Peterson, including
Excerpts from
Making Healthy Families

Making Healthy Families

Purpose: To develop a shared experience and vision of “family” that involves members in family processes which promote healthy relationships


1. to gather information and feedback from family members about their views of their experience in their family and

2. introduce guidelines to establish a forum for problem- solving

Guidelines for having a family meeting:

1. Introduce the concept of a “family meeting” in words appropriate to the age level of the youngest member. The age of five is generally the youngest member that can successfully respond to questions, however you can include younger children with appropriate adaptation for their ability to be involved in discussion. State the purpose of having meetings is to be able to have a place to listen and to help one another, as this is the meaning of family. (commitment)

2. Parents identify themselves as the leader(s) of the meetings and provide the rules for fairness, including:

a) use “I” to express a belief, feeling or viewpoint. Each person must feel safe to express an opinion even if it is unpopular. (respect for differences)

b) Introduce the concept of “active listening”. Let members know when it is their turn to speak, and reinforce this by not allowing others to interrupt. Make it a rule that at least one person reflect back what the person who is speaking said, before offering another viewpoint or opinion. (understanding) Be ready to stop members if they fall into discounting or blaming. Simply reinforce the rules for fairness.

c)Be clear that you are interested in your children’s experience and you want to understand them, however parents retain decision-making about family issues except as they delegate this responsibility to a child as a part of their development to towards appropriate independence. (effective parental leadership)

d)Input and discussion is desirable, but members must have equal (not unlimited) time to express their views. Make this first meeting a short one of perhaps 20-30 minutes, depending on age/attention span an number of members. (effective organization)

e) Parents must agree beforehand on whether they will take turns, or co-lead simultaneously. You must remember that you are the role models for this process. It is important that you are on the same page! Show cooperation and respect for one another verbally. (Say something like, “That was a good idea of your mother’s, or father’s when the opportunity arises to do so)--in other words show appreciation and respect. Make decisions together.

Warning: Do not do this exercise if you feel that you cannot cooperate with your spouse or refrain from using this opportunity for “spouse bashing”. Do this exercise if you can agree to listen to your partner and be ready to reflect, and understand their experience without changing it. (understanding)

4. State the goal of this first meeting is to gather input on their experience in the family around three important areas of “respect”, “fairness”, and “help”. (You may decide to change these areas in the future as your family meetings progress, this is only an introduction to begin developing your family processes). For younger children (under three), you may demonstrate “respect” by how a kitten is treated, “fairness” by splitting a cookie in half, and “help” by bringing Daddy his shoe. (These are just examples. Use your own creativity and knowledge of your family members to make this a “fun” experience). The sooner you implement a family meeting, the better. Young children who grow up with these processes will learn them more easily.

5. Introduce the concept of problem-solving and the potential for family meetings to help solve problems that arise between members. State that you may get to a “problem” in this meeting, or you may save that for the next meeting and just concentrate on getting their feedback of their experience in the family at this time.

If you proceed to putting a “problem” forward for suggestions or help, use an example that is simple and current in your family.(for example: Mom is having trouble putting dinner on the table on Tuesdays because of a new project at work. Any suggestions? Or the youngest, Johnny, may be taking toys away from his older sister, Sally when her friends come over to play.) By simply stating family problems, you increase awareness of all members in trying to come up with answers over time. You have already laid the foundation for “helping”. The rest can come more naturally than you might imagine!


Once you have established guidelines and shared the purpose and goals of the meeting, ask each person to tell you something about his/her experience of “respect” in the family, “fairness” and “help”.

A parent might go first. Using the “I” statements describe how you experience being “respected” in the family ,and how you do not. Fill in the blank:

I feel respected in my family when_______________

I don’t feel respected in my family when_____________

The other spouse can reflect your experience back to you and show understanding. Set the tone by including ways you feel positively about this issue, as well as any disappointment you may experience. This process teaches us that we can have “good” and “bad” feelings, but we are still “good” people! This lays a foundation for separating feelings from actions and allowing room for a full range of emotions to be expressed.

Let everyone take a turn at expressing themselves. Then move on to talk about “fairness” and “help” if there is time to do so. Use “I” statements, remember to reflect each person’s feelings and experience. Fill in the blanks:

I feel that my family is “fair” because__________

I feel my family is not fair about___________

I feel my family helps me with_______________

I feel my family does not help me with_______________

The above statements are starters. Naturally, you can take them further. But stay true to simply expressing your feelings, positive and negative and being understood. Other alternate topics for gathering information can include:

What do you like about your family, what would you like to have happen more in the family? less ? Anything you want to change?

The older your children are (teens) the more likelihood that discussion will be either easier or harder to facilitate. Hang in there. And be sure that you adapt this exercise to the appropriate age level of your family members. You older child may want more problem-solving. Nine year- olds, for example, are especially focused on “fairness” and how things operate in the family.

See where the natural energy of the family takes you, but maintain rules for “fairness” so that safe discussion can develop. If you get de-railed, do not despair! Simply state this, and reinforce the rules. (example: I think we are beginning to “argue” and “blame”. The point is to accept different views and experience. Let’s get back to seeing if you can understand your sister’s feelings. You don’t have to change it. Let’s just see if we “get” what her experience is, even if we “disagree”). Be clear that you believe in their ability to develop listening skills, and refrain from attack or blame.

Keep the process moving, so that each person gets heard. End with a positive note about everyone’s willingness to hear each other, even if they did not totally understand or agree. By saying this, you as a parent, are placing importance and value on the very processes (of understanding, tolerating differences, making room for feelings) that allow for healthy relationships to develop. Remember, you may not be able to always do this in the moment, but if you can model these processes in a more formalized way (in a family meeting), the momentum in the family towards implementing these processes will snowball.

If the above has gone well, you have succeeded at opening the door to ongoing feedback about family experience by its’ members. You may also feel good about having gathered information and begun a forum for applying the processes and guidelines you have learned in this seminar. You may either end, and suggest a time for another meeting to update you on family feedback and introduce problem-solving or proceed to “brainstorming” solutions to family problems that arise between members.

Problem-Solving: If you choose to....

Take one family problem of your own and present it to the group, or ask if there are other members who might have a problem they would like the family’s help with in “brainstorming”. For example, one father expressed his distress about toys that were strewn throughout the living room and hallways when he returned home from his job. He occasionally fell and seriously bruised himself over hidden wooden trucks and other paraphernalia. He knew his children needed to play, but he wondered if anyone had any ideas about how toys could be put away at some point in the evening. The family was able to develop a ritual that toys were put away before dinnertime, so stories could be read. The three year old and five year old were empowered to “help”, probably because of the impact that being a part of an important “family meeting” engenders. They were also able to associate their helping Dad, with getting more attention from him as well!

The advantage of bringing “problems” up at a family meeting is that you are “striking while the iron is cold”. Yes, that’s right. When people are falling down and bruising themselves, they are likely to blame (at least) and anger and frustration is high. If other family members are also having a “bad hair day” the result of trying to work through this problem in the moment it arises is laced with failure. Additionally, because of the resulting negative feelings, the conflict is avoided when tempers have cooled, and only arises again when the situation heats up. This creates a terribly viscous cycle, as you no doubt you may have experienced. Molehills do not need to become mountains if families have vehicles for resolving problems in a calm manner. Family meetings can provide a safe and conscious framework for addressing problems successfully.

Family meetings provide a basis for developing awareness in the family. But it does not stop there. This kind of conscious relating infiltrates daily interactions. You may find that over time, your family meetings are happening more spontaneously over dinner, or the processes you are introducing in a formal manner in the meeting become a natural way of interacting between members when negotiating or expressing needs outside of a family meeting. Family meetings may eventually be saved for times when “special needs” arise and members need more time to talk feelings and needs through in a formalized format they have come to trust and rely upon.

The “family meeting” can become anything you want and need it to be in order to create connection and problem-solving in your family. Start with this basic model to create a space, place and time to consciously seed these family processes that reinforce respect for differences, understanding, caring and helping one another. Commitment to one or more family meetings gives your family a framework to identify itself as a powerful nurturing force that all members may come to depend upon for their growth. Encouraging connection over disconnection, working through conflict rather than polarizing around it and making a safe place for the expression of a full range of feelings and viewpoints allows us to “belong” without thwarting that which distinguishes our unique sense of self.

Go to: Ten Processes that Promote Healthy Family Relationships



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