Dr. Fran Walfish is a child and family psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, California, and is the author of The Self-Aware Parent. Her vast experience in family dynamics just may inspire you to pull out the calendar and make a regular family meeting a part of your life.
Life is hectic, especially when you consider the crazy schedules that kids keep. Sometimes it can be tough, if not impossible, to gather the entire family for a meal, let alone a sit-down meeting. But if you want to stay connected with your children, a family meeting may be just what you need. "Every child needs to feel like he belongs to a group," says Dr. Walfish. "The reason gangs are growing trend is because the kids who join gangs do not feel connected to their own family unit. Individuals feel more bonded to each other when they are kept informed about each other's feelings."
A time to listen
Parenting can often be a one-way street when it comes to communication. A family meeting gives kids an opportunity to voice some opinions, and parents an opportunity to listen. "It's very important for parents to help their children take turns listening, without interruptions, in order for each family member to feel heard, validated and accepted," says Dr. Walfish. "Ground rules should include no interruptions, no criticisms, no put-downs and reflective listening." You want your kids to walk away from the meeting knowing that their opinions matter and that they are essential to the family unit.
While you want to give your kids the floor to speak during a family meeting, it's also a great time for you to share as well. Look at it as a great opportunity to model solid communication skills. "How we treat our children sets the model for how they will treat themselves," says Dr. Walfish. "Talking is the glue that holds relationships together. Balance love and nurturing with establishing and enforcing boundaries." When you've established the family meeting as a regular
Our technology-driven world provides plenty of opportunity to focus on ourselves (look no further than Facebook and Twitter for evidence), but the family unit often suffers as a result. A regular family meeting combats the tendency for kids to drift away from their parents. The following tips will help you create an enjoyable and productive meeting in your own home:
- Pick a time when everyone is comfortable and open to conversation. Often right after dinner is ideal.
- Eliminate any distractions such as cell phone, television and computers.
- Create a calm and welcoming environment, perhaps with candles and a yummy dessert.
- Establish guidelines that everyone agrees to, such as no negativity or criticism.
- "Never engage in negotiations, bargaining, or deal-making, especially when resolving conflicts," says Dr. Walfish. "Rather, talk about what your child feels and wants in the moment. This teaches empathy."
- Stick to it. When your kids trust the experience they will be more open to receiving the benefits of a regular family meeting.
More tips for talking to your kids
Talking to kids about money
How to talk to your kids about sex
Talking to kids about gender roles