Good communication skills for families in lockdown
Family life can feel very intense at the moment with all the family at home all the time. Little niggles could become big irritations. So it might be good to start having family meetings – not to tackle any major problems but just to improve communication within the family and help everyone to be positive and solution focused. Here are some tips from the Centre for Parenting Education on holding family meetings.
What is a Family Meeting?
You may have heard people talk about holding family meetings and wondered what they were or why families would schedule formal times to meet and talk. At first glance, it may appear to be unnecessary.
However, after considering the fast-paced and hectic lives that many families lead, the benefits of being more intentional about finding time to connect becomes evident.
Family meetings are discussions that involve all family members who are concerned about or affected by a particular issue. Often the topic relates to a problem that the family is experiencing, although family meetings can also be used to plan time together or to try to prevent problems from occurring.
These meetings provide a time that members can focus on being a family.
The Benefits/Purpose of Family Meetings
- Because family meetings give everyone a voice, they build children’s self-esteem. The children are treated like valued members of the family whose ideas are listened to and considered.
- Children learn that family members are interdependent, that they are all connected, and what each person does can have an effect on everyone else.
- The skills children learn in family meetings, such as compromise, openness to other’s ideas and cooperation, will help them to deal effectively with problems they encounter in other situations and social settings.
- The family becomes more cohesive and family closeness increases because children are then more likely to identify with the family. By involvement in family decision-making and solving family problems, children see themselves as having responsibility for making a good family life.
- By participating in family meetings, children learn to take the perspective of the whole group and to think of what is good for the family as a whole, not just themselves.
- Family meetings counterbalance the hectic lives that today’s parents and children lead; the technological distractions of the computer and video games, the extra-curricular activities, school and work pressures all pull family members in different directions.
Family meetings serve as a centrifugal force that grounds families and encourages connections and identity. They can send a message that family time is important and is a priority in your family.
- Family meetings provide a platform for conflicts to be addressed and for problems to be resolved in a way that feels fair to everyone. You as the parent will set the limits of what is acceptable, but everyone has input.
Children learn to examine situations, propose solutions, evaluate results with guidance, support and demonstrations from you and their older siblings. They begin to see themselves as capable of finding solutions to problems.
- Family meetings provide the opportunity for information to be shared equally with everyone
Forms of Family Meetings
Family meetings can take the form of one-time events or they may be held on a more regular basis. If your family meets regularly, your role initially will be to provide nonjudgmental leadership. Over time you may decide to rotate leadership. Invite everyone in the family who is concerned about or affected by a particular issue to participate.
Setting a Positive Tone
- plan weekly schedules/calendars so everyone knows what each person will need to do and what commitments have been made.
- share information that will effect family members.
- have fun together.
- make family decisions about vacations, recreation or other activities.
To add to a constructive atmosphere, you can:
- include refreshments.
- include an opening activity that highlights positive family events or achievements or affirms individual family members. Example – best thing I did today, trait I like about myself, (or about someone else in family)
- set an agenda so that everyone knows what will be discussed.
- establish ground rules, such as:
- no interruptions
- no put downs
- everyone is listened to
- respect each other’s opinions
- everyone has a chance to contribute/
How To’s of Family Meetings
You may want to have a more formal arrangement to your family meetings no matter what the focus. If the purpose of the meeting is to discuss a specific problem, it is helpful to use the following prescribed steps:
- Decide who is involved.
Tell them which issue you would like to discuss and why.
- Each person states his perspective and viewpoint about the problem.
This is done without interruption and without judgment. By going around the table, each person is given the opportunity to speak and the parents are prevented from doing all the talking.
- Ask each person for suggestions to solve the problem, again with no interruptions.
- Write down the suggestions.
Discuss the proposals and consider their feasibility until all agree on solutions that seem fair to everyone.
- Develop a plan of action.
Make a list of who will do what and when. You can even have everyone sign the agreement to give a sense of importance to the process. You can post this agreement as a reminder.
- At the end of the session, set a time for a follow up meeting to evaluate how your plan is working.
- Have a follow up meeting.
During this meeting, you can create a positive perspective by recognizing progress even if adjustments need to be made.
Some Additional Tips for Success
- Value everyone’s input.
- Treat all members as equals.
- Listen to everyone and encourage each other.
- Avoid letting one person dominate who might think he has more rights than other members.
- Keep the family meeting short – with young children, the meeting should be no longer than 15 minutes.
Over time, as your children see that they are respected and listened to, they will begin to appreciate the value of family meetings. You may even find them requesting family meetings when they have issues they want the family to address.
You can find more tips and resources from the Center for Parenting Education here https://centerforparentingeducation.org/