Letting Off Steam A Little at a Time
Prevention is Better Than Cure When it Comes to Family Conflict
Family meetings are more important than you think. Sessions benefit all family members providing opportunities for developing, positive character traits, better behaviour, closer relationships and improved life skills. This topic would fit well as a tool in the Child Training Toolbox article series, but the impact of meetings is so significant I have included it as an essential consideration in behaviour management.
As each family has it's own culture; their meetings will reflect that uniqueness. This article contains suggestions that may reflect my personal biases. Parents need to adjust the particulars of meeting to suit their needs.
If meetings are organised and run well, the benefits to the family can include the following:
POSITIVE CHARACTER TRAITS
- Self-control - as a result of turn-taking in discussions and controlling emotions in emotive situations.
- Respect for authority - from following directions from the chairperson.
- Empathy - from discussing other's emotions and feelings.
- Patience - because of the need to wait to voice an opinion or to introduce a new topic.
- Humility - because family members need to admit fault and apologise when necessary.
- Responsibility - from being prepared for a meeting or carrying out tasks designated at a previous
- Self-denial - by putting off what they would prefer to do to attend the meeting.
- Honesty - from having a safe place to express their true feelings and opinions.
- Unselfishness - by happily putting their preferences aside for the vote of the majority.
- Punctuality - because the responsibility for attending the meeting on time rests with the individuals.
- Self-respect - as a result of growing in character and acquiring useful life skills.
It is self-evident that acquiring the positive character traits above almost guarantees an improvement in behaviour.
Well organised and chaired meetings can lead to the acquisition of the following:
- Time management
- Understanding meeting protocols
- Active listening
- Follow meeting rules
- Conflict resolution
- Sense of justice
Meetings can result in many benefits to the relationships and emotional atmosphere of the home.
- Improved feelings of security
- Less conflict
- Closer bonds
- More trust
- Better behaviour
- Less stress
- Fairer discipline
- Fewer emotional outbursts
- Greater respect
PLANNING AND STRUCTURING
As a lead up to broaching the subject of family meetings with the children, the parents could sit down casually and ask each child to list the things they would like to see changed in how the family operates. Invite them to be honest. Parents should not attempt to solve any issues; their job, on this occasion, is to listen attentively, showing interest with nods and encouraging grunts. The parents compile a written record of each child's suggestions; this reveals to the children how serious the parents are about their children's ideas. When each child completes their list, one parent should ask, "Can you think of anything else?" or, "Do you want to add anything else?" thus encouraging children to say what is in their heart.
When the activity ends, the chairperson could say, "Would you like to discuss each of these items as a family to see if we can make home a happier place for you?" Even if the response from the children is negative, the parents then need to discuss with them some of the main benefits of having a 'special time' to talk about the desired changes. Parents may add that each family member will have a chance to have their say about holidays, outings, family playtime, visiting relatives and friends, special meals and even consequences for uncooperative behaviour.
At this stage, the chair could say, "Does anyone have a suggestion as to when we will have our first meeting? This first meeting will not be for talking about your ideas but for agreeing as to how we should go about doing it. We don't want a brawl on our hands do we, and we want everyone else to respect our ideas, don't we?"
Meetings need to have structure, but they are also to be enjoyable. They should not be too formal. There should be a Code of Conduct that everyone understands.
The parents decide who will be the chair. They could alternate taking the position. The Chair's responsibility is to ensure that all should show respect for one another and that the meeting runs in an orderly fashion. Children should not chair meetings. As parents have more authority in the home, so it is appropriate for them to chair the meetings, reinforcing that authority. It would not be healthy for a child to have jurisdiction over a parent, even if roleplaying the situation.
THE DAY OF THE WEEK, TIME & DURATION
At the first meeting, the family agrees on an appropriate day, time and duration. Once a week is ideal, the age and attention spans of the children will determine the length. Meetings should not run for over an hour. Carefully select a time when everyone is alert, and no one is out of sorts.
Meet in the same place, and choose a spot where there are no distractions; where possible eliminate background noise. Turn off phones and entertainment media. Shut pets out and don't allow anything into the venue that might distract, e.g. mobile phones, books, toys, trinkets or food. If possible meet when no one else is in the house.
At the first meeting, decide the rules. Be as consistent as possible in adhering to them. I would suggest that at least you arrive at the following:
- All family members are at the venue a couple of minutes before starting time. They should have their agenda items with them.
- The chairperson, as the highest authority, is responsible for keeping order and holding members accountable for any infringements of the rules.
- Members are to respect all other members views.
- Members are to speak respectfully at all times, e. there should be no teasing, ridiculing or making fun of, another member.
- Members are not to interrupt another member while they are speaking except for clarification.
- Members will endeavour to avoid going to the toilet (bathroom) during the meeting, i.e. going to the toilet before the meeting. If the matter becomes urgent, they need to request the chairperson.
- Members should have a drink before the meeting and not have to get a drink during the session.
- If a member gets emotional and is unable to calm down, the chairperson adjourns the meeting to another time.
Members are to bring their agenda items along to the meeting. At the first meeting members decide the order of presentation. Agenda items can be anything that a member considers worthy of presenting, and that would contribute to the positive growth in family cooperation or the efficient running of the household.
Brainstorming is listing without comment to all suggestions, reasonable or unreasonable, dealing with the problem or situation under discussion. When the complete list is in hand, the more sensible suggestions are discussed and voted on.
The parents could formulate a Mission Statement that they present for discussion at the first meeting. Invite children to make suggestions for editing the statement. I suggest the following as a starting point:
"To make our home a place where everyone feels safe and secure; a place where everyone is respected and their ideas appreciated."
This article is only a skeletal outline. It is up parents to put flesh on the bones to make their meetings living, breathing entities so that the home relationships can become more trusting, caring, respectful and happy.
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
I am suggesting this as an agenda item for one of your family meetings. The activity encourages thoughtfulness, kindness and unselfishness.
The Rules of Play:
- Family members agree to do one secret act of kindness for one member of the household.
- At the next meeting, members report the kind act they received and thank the anonymous, kind member.
- Members should spread their kind acts evenly across the family.
- Members can choose to do more that one random act of kindness.
- All members should do their acts of kindness without expecting anything in return.