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Mindful Parenting Tips: Use Family Or Class Meetings For Problem Solving

Feb 28, 2008
How old should children be for family meetings?

Never underestimate your child's ability to participate and benefit from a family meeting. I have done them with success with children 15 months old and would not hesitate to include an infant. The thing to remember is that you are creating a format so that you can come up with solutions as a family. This makes the family unit the authority instead of just you (which is a set up for power struggles).

So when you begin having meetings don't expect them to be the cure all. Instead break them down into steps to ensure success.

I am grateful to Rudolph Dreikurs, who introduced me to meetings in The Challenge of Child Training: A Parent's Guide. After using them in my Montessori School and with my family for the last 19 years I have come up with what works best for me. Here are the things to remember:

- Family meetings should occur once a week on the same day, at the same time.

- Schedule a meeting between meals when folks are rested. I like 11 am because we have recently had snack and had some outdoor time, so we are ready to sit and listen and participate.

- Sit at a cleared table, turn off the tv and phone.

- Use a talking stick, only the person with the stick can talk.

- If possible have the special day person lead the meeting. Write down the minutes, keep a journal. It will remind you of what you did and it will be loads of fun to read years down the road.

Remember: Meetings are for finding solutions, NOT FOR GRIPING OR BLAMING. (If folks need to gripe, schedule a gripe session for another time. At the gripe session set the timer for one minute and everyone gets to gripe at the same time. You'll all end up laughing.)

For the first month follow this format:

1. Open the meeting by passing the stick around and inviting each person to share what they are grateful for.

2. Thank everyone for their contributions, even the little one who says, "I like bananas."

3. Pass the talking stick and have everyone make suggestions about what fun family activity you can do right after the meeting.

4. Vote on the suggestions. Expect the little ones to vote for each option. Don't correct them, they'll get it eventually. Be sure that the parents don't always vote together.

5. Close the meeting by letting the leader choose a song for everyone to sing. Seerve dessert! It's a great way to get those older children to participate!

6. Go do the fun family activity.

The second month:

1. Introduce compliments. Pass the stick and have each person compliment themself. Alternate gratefuls and self compliments each week.

2. Introduce issues. Pass the stick and ask each person, "Do you have an issue that you would like help solving?"

3. Address the first CHILD issue that is presented. (Save adult issues for the next month.).

4. Pass the stick and have each person make a suggestion for a solution. If someone doesn't have one let them "pass". Have two solutions yourself in case no one offers one. Make sure solutions are RELATED, RESPECTFUL and REASONABLE!

5. Let the person with the issue decide: either they choose a solution or the family votes. Vote if the issue concerns the entire family.

6. Sing. Have dessert.

The third month:

1. Introduce complimenting each other. Have each person compliment the person sitting next to them (let the leader decide which direction to go) by acknowledging something that person did. Now alternate gratefuls, self acknowledgments and complimenting others, one per meeting.

2. Introduce the written agenda. Folks may write, draw a picture, or dictate their issue. Vote on how may issues they can write each week. Post the agenda in a central location.

3. When someone comes to report an issue, invite them to write it on the agenda. Follow the agenda in sequence. Ask each person if it is still an issue for them. Often times they have resolved it themself. Ask if they would like to share how they solved their problem.

4. Adults may begin to present an issue. Only one adult issue per meeting from here on out! I suggest that the first time one parent present an issue about the other parent to help the children realize that it's not the adults versus the kids.

5. Phrase your issue this way: "I am having a problem with (the situation). Can you please help me come up with a solution?" Folks want to help us when we take responsibility for us having a problem rather than blaming others.

6. Strive to arrive at a consensus where everyone agrees on one solution so the family is not divided on issues that involve the family as a whole. Frame the solutions as "an experiment" that you're going try for a week.

If someone isn't happy with the outcome, including yourself, then they can put it on the agenda for the next meeting.

7. If you haven't done so already, vote on how long the meetings will last. I recommend that you keep them short, so folks will continue to want to attend. (If an older child does not want to attend, that's fine. Once they realize that decisions are being made for them they might change their mind.)


1. A family member may call a mid- week meeting, if desired.

2. As children get older, use family meetings to schedule everyone's events for the coming week and enter them on a calendar.

3. Everyone follows the agreed on solutions until they reappear on the agenda. No falling back on the adults re-taking charge! (unless of course it's a safety issue.)

4. Have a meeting each week even when there are no issues. Have News Period instead.

5. Single parent or roommate family units can have meetings as well as larger family units. Use the same format. Classes can use this format too. Place chairs in a big circle. Majority rules.

Remember: You are setting the stage for the future by creating a format that your family will be so familiar with that when you REALLY have issues you'll be able to solve them as a family in a respectful, cooperative way.
About the Author
And now I would like offer you free access to my online parenting newsletter, Mindful Parenting Tips: Mindful Parenting Tips

Discover proven techniques to become the best parent and solve your most difficult child-raising situations.

Tulum Dothee, credentialed and certified educator and counselor can be reached at: Parenting
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