Our first step was to establish a predictable time each week to have the meetings. We settled on Saturday mornings, when everyone would be fresh. The first meeting, of course, would be short. At a family meeting there are two alternating leadership roles, chairperson and secretary. The chairperson makes sure the meeting runs smoothly and that everyone is heard. The secretary takes the minutes and reads them at the next meeting. My husband and I figured it would be years before our four- and five-year olds would be ready to step into leadership roles.
The meeting agenda consists of a compliment time, reading of the minutes, old business, finances, new business and then ends with a treat. The treat can be a snack, an outing or a game.
We went home and told the girls about the family meeting idea. On Saturday, we started with compliment time with each family member giving everyone a thank-you or an acknowledgement of some accomplishment or strength. The girls found it difficult to give each other compliments, so I made a mental note to help them practice before the next meeting.
We didn't have any minutes to read or old business to discuss at the first meeting. For finances we decided to discuss how we were saving for a summer trip. How much can you discuss with four- and five-year-olds?
On our first agenda, we discussed bedtime routine, how to treat guests in the house and how to include or not include your sister if a friend came over. This took ten minutes. Then we were off to the Farmer's Market, which became our routine for a couple of years.
By the third meeting, our almost six-year-old wanted to have a turn as chairperson and run the meeting. Much to my surprise, she did an admirable job. We kept our weekly agenda on our refrigerator and kept minutes in a spiral notebook. Minutes of the meetings can be very simple, for example:
FAMILY MEETING: January 6, 1995
1. Plan family vacation.
2. Save money for ski trip.
3. Remember to ask permission to use other people's things.
In the beginning our meetings felt a little stiff and formal. In a few weeks they became more natural and relaxed. Here are some recommended ground rules from Active Parenting for your family meetings:
1. Every person has an equal voice. Let everyone's opinions be heard.
2. Everyone may share what he or she thinks and feels about each issue. Ask quiet children for their opinions and avoid expressing disapproval if children share unpleasant feelings.
3. Decisions are made by concensus. Votes are not taken, and majority doesn't rule. Matters are discussed until all are in agreement.
4. All decisions are adhered to until the next meeting. Any complaints about a decision should receive the comment, "Put in on the agenda for the next meeting."
5. Some decision are reserved for parents.
Not everything is up for discussion and a decision. Parents have decisions to make that are theirs alone, for example a job change or move. Family meetings can help the family express thoughts, concerns and feelings about changes made by parents' decisions. Over the years our family meetings grew less frequent and formal as we learned, as a family, how to handle our problems effectively. For more information about Active Parenting and family meetings, go to www.activeparenting.com.
Next Week: The Danger of Fantasy
Kids Talk is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.
She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1534, Bentonville, AR 72712.
Visit www.shininglightreading.com for more information.
Ask your local newspaper to carry Kids Talk. Call, write or e-mail your local newspaper editor and recommend Kids Talk. Want to send Kids Talk to friends and family? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
925 N.W. Hoyt #532
Portland, OR 97209