Family Meetings: Your Most Powerful Parenting Tool


How many of you feel confident in the workplace only to melt in to a pile of frustration and fear when it comes to parenting? Why do high functioning managers who lead successful teams come home and turn into autocrats or doormats with their children?

Imagine for a moment the most effective workgroup you have been a part of. All members of the team knew what they were responsible for and completed their tasks without micromanagement. It wasn’t always easy, but your commitment to each other and your shared goals allowed you to work through challenges in calm respectful ways.

Now imagine that team is your family. Your team goal is healthy family life, teaching critical life skills and solving problems in a way that is respectful of BOTH adults and kids. How exactly does your team accomplish this? Through coming together weekly to connect and tune in to the work of being a family.

Before you groan, I am not talking about dreaded team meetings where the boss drones on, the senior team member stuck in the past squashes every new idea, and the bulk of the team is staring at their phones. I am definitely not talking about the sporadic calling of a family meeting that is code for “someone’s in trouble.” In my work with families, I frequently hear, “We tried family meetings and they don’t work!” If family meetings have been about blame and lecture, is it any wonder your team doesn’t want to work with you?

What I am talking about is fifteen to thirty minutes once a week to solve problems that both kids and adults have identified during the week. If you are familiar with Agile Project Management, think of this as a standup. Let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts of effective family meetings.

What’s On The Agenda?

Family meetings follow a regular structure so team member know what to expect. Family meetings include four sections: Compliments, Problem Solving, Calendar Planning, and Family Fun.

Compliments. At the start of the meeting, each family member gives a compliment to every other family member and then one to themselves. Learning to give and receive specific, positive feedback is a skill that takes time to develop, so they may sound awkward at first. We started family meetings when my oldest was three, so compliments often sounded like, “I like playing with you.” You can help your child think about specific compliments by asking, “Was there a time we played together this week that was especially fun?”

Besides feeling good, we start with compliments because they create a positive atmosphere and help us tune in to the positive before solving problems together. They also teach children (and grown ups) to be on the look out for what’s good, instead of focusing on the negative. Don’t be surprised if this positive perspective continues to pop up during the week.

Problem Solving. During the week, when problems arise that cannot be solved in the moment, either because emotions are too high or time is short, they can be put on the family meeting agenda. This should be a piece of paper that is accessible to everyone. If your child is not yet writing, they can draw a picture or ask for help.

After compliments, first review solutions to the problem you solved the week before to check in and see if it is working for everyone. Then agree as a family which problem you will solve and state the problem in a non-blaming way. For example, if someone wrote, “Sam always takes my stuff,” you might frame it as “respecting other people’s property.” It’s critical that we stay away from blame and focus on solutions or we risk losing the team.

Next, brain storm a list of possible solutions to the problem. Avoid debating ideas as they come up, no matter how ridiculous they seem. The idea is for everyone to have a voice without feeling judged. When the idea flow has ended, choose one suggestion by consensus that is respectful of everyone and commit to try it for one week. Agreeing to try a solution for a defined period of time is often easier than when we perceive the solution as set in stone. Be sure to get specific about the logistics of your plan.

Calendar Planning. This is your built in time to get help the family get on the same page. Who needs rides where? Are there doctors appointments scheduled? Who is on dinner each night? Going over the logistics for the week decreases anxiety how things will happen. In addition, it’s helping them build their own time management and planning skills.

Family Fun. Wrap up your family meeting by having some fun together. Whether it’s a board game, a dance party, or a trip to the park, coming together to share a fun experience sends us off to the week with a positive perspective.

Tips For Success

Now that we’ve covered the logistics of how family meetings work, here’s a few tips for getting the most out of them.

Everyone Needs A Role. If you have experience in leading teams, your might know that when people have a role, they are more likely to contribute. Family meetings are no different. Each member should have a job at the meeting and jobs should rotate weekly.

The chairperson calls the meeting to order, asks for compliments to start, and helps keep the family on task. The recorder writes down the brainstormed ideas and notes the solution that was chosen. If the note taker is not yet able to write, they can draw pictures too. The timekeeper pays attention to the meeting length to make sure it is not going on too long. Other jobs may include set up, snack preparer, or just about anything. One of the roles in our family meeting is the person who calls for a deep breath if they notice tension building in the meeting.

Share Control. Family meetings are an opportunity for our children to learn respectful use of power. When we let go of micromanaging, they develop the self-discipline we are so desperate for them to have.

Start Slow. When you introduce family meetings, remember you are teaching a new skill and learning will take time. The first few weeks, just do compliments and family fun. At the third or fourth week, introduce the concept of finding solutions. Pick something easy, like what to do on an upcoming family day.

Think About Timing. Think about your children and what time of day would work best. We have learned that weekend mornings work best for us and that Sunday nights are the worst.

Let Go Of Perfection. Meltdowns happen, kids get sick. Sometimes we need to cut the losses and move on. We have been having family meetings for seven years now and still about one out of five goes haywire. It’s ok to let it go for the week or try again another day.

When we give our children the opportunity to step up to the plate without fear of blame or failure, they rise to the occasion. Family meetings give children the chance to flex their own problem solving skills. So, share the power and help develop future leaders, instead of demanding obedience. Your family is worth it.

For More Resources On Family Meetings, check out:

Joyful Courage Podcast: All About Family Meetings With Julietta Skoog

Children: The Challenge, by Rudolf Dreikurs

Positive Discipline, by Dr. Jane Nelson