Do you feel like the wheels are coming off your family operation? Are tensions running too high, and is there too little margin in your life? I hate to break it to you, but it might be time to add something – a family meeting. Pro tip: take something else out of your life to make space for this new weekly habit.
I’ve got you covered in this post. Here’s everything you need, from the how-tos, the whys, the details, and even some free family meeting agendas to reduce the prep work for you.
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Why have family meetings?
Family meetings can either be a waste of time and a nuisance, or an absolute game changer. Below are some great reasons to consider holding a weekly family meeting.
To become more organized as a family
Some families just have a lot going on and don’t have systems in place to communicate well with each other. If you’ve got kids who tend to tell you about a major school project the night before, or a spouse who never seems to remember a social engagement planned for the weekend, having a family meeting can help a lot.
To address frustrations productively
There’s nothing worse than letting problem behaviors fester and worsen over time, until someone explodes and relationships are damaged.
With a weekly family meeting and some strong boundaries in place, families can start to address frustrations productively, learn to communicate better, and stop hurtful practices long before they become seriously damaging to the family.
To celebrate victories
Sometimes we don’t do a great job of celebrating each other and taking time to notice the good. Putting something like this on your weekly family meeting agenda can help ensure that you take time to notice the positive things in one another, and celebrate things like great study habits, improved communication, or an exciting win on the soccer field.
To connect meaningfully with each other
If you’re intentional about your family meetings, you can carve out time that’s really special. If it’s like pulling teeth to get family members to participate, you’re doing it wrong!
A family meeting shouldn’t be something that can be accomplished in an email, but it’s probably also a bit more structured than a dinner around the table.
When family meetings are done right, people want to participate because they look forward to connecting meaningfully with one another.
To build kids’ self esteem and sense of belonging
Kids love family meetings if they are run correctly, because they develop a sense of belonging and ownership of what happens in their own families. The power to help make decisions or have a voice in their own lives – in a proactive manner – can be a big deal for kids. To learn more about how family meetings benefit kids, read here.
Planning Your Family Meeting
Put some thought into your family meetings before just throwing one together! Without proper planning, it could be a waste of time. Worse, your family may hesitate to rejoin you a second time.
I think family meetings should be encouraged and incentivized, but not required for teenagers or reluctant spouses. If you do it right, people will be curious and want to participate.
Kids under 5 are probably too young, but they can always participate in part of the meeting. In fact, you can set up your family meeting agenda in such a way that older family members are there for calendaring and problem solving, while younger kids just stick around for the fun, relationship building stuff.
Time, Place and Atmosphere
Planning out the setting is pretty important to creating buy-in from your family members.
Choose a time that makes sense for your family.
Perhaps it’s in the evening, after the baby goes to bed. Maybe Saturday or Sunday mornings work better for your family.
When will you have the best attendance and the highest number of willing participants? That’s when you do it!
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I think a kitchen or dining room table is probably perfect. There’s space for note-taking if needed, but your table can also handle the snacks. Any place where your family likes to eat that is well-lit is probably a great choice.
I can also imagine a coffee table being a fun alternative.
Creating a fun atmosphere will really help you get folks excited about your family meeting.
If you’ve got evening meetings, plan a different fun snack or meal every week – hot chocolate, a bowl of popcorn, or piece of cake. A breakfast meeting might call for a delicious coffee cake, pancakes, or anything else that’s a fun treat for your people.
Put on some fun music. Make it quiet enough to have great conversation but still enough volume to contribute to the vibe you want. Does it need to be energetic and spirited or calm and soothing? You decide.
Think about your lighting. Fluorescent lighting can be frustrating. Teachers avoid using it. Try a combination of lamps at different heights in the room.
Stay positive and conversational, even when discussing relationship challenges. If you make it feel like a lecture or negative, no one will want to come back.
- Special snacks
- Notebooks or notepads
- Fun markers or writing utensils
- An ice breaker or something funny to kick off the meeting
- A paper or digital calendar for everyone
- Family meeting agendas (see bottom of post)
Respect and honor everyone’s time. Decide an appropriate length of time for your family and the age of your kids, set a timer, and don’t go past it.
Consider having a talking piece during portions of your meeting where sharing happens. The only one speaking is the one with the talking piece, and everyone else needs to make eye contact, nod their heads, and practice listening skills. When the speaker is done, they pass the talking piece to another family member.
“Mind the mic” is a guideline that encourages everyone to be mindful of the microphone, making sure to not hog all the attention and airtime. Try to create a balanced environment.
Speak from the heart. If sarcasm ever becomes too biting or nasty, you may have to institute a no sarcasm rule. People should say what they think is true with kindness.
Consider whether or not to allow electronics. For some families, this guideline may not be worth the hassle. Allowing phones is a distraction, but I like using the calendar on my own phone. And I’d rather have a teenage boy eating snacks and playing a game on his phone while we meet than not being happily present at all. If he looks up and smiles occasionally, and participates in an ice breaker, is that better than some alternative outcomes?
Possible Topics to Discuss at Your Family Meeting
The family meeting agenda can be comprised of anything that matters to your family. All of these topics are included in my family meeting agendas.
Ice Breaker or Catching Up
I like including this piece at the beginning just to set the right tone. Some teenagers may scoff at using an ice breaker or think they’re too cool for it. It may make more sense to just catch up on what’s happened this past week.
Our family often uses roses, thorns and seeds. Family members take turns telling about roses (something good), thorns (something bad), and seeds (something that makes them feel hopeful about the future).
Lots of families get really busy as kids get older. Taking time to sit down together with a calendar and look over upcoming activities, homework assignments, and scheduling challenges can cut down on stress each day. Fewer surprises = lower stress = kinder, gentler family.
I would include the events of the week first. Who has a choir performance, late night at the office, or huge science project due this week? How can we make it all happen?
Upcoming Big Events/Scheduling Rest
Next, look one or two months out. Are there presents to buy, prom dresses to choose, or a date night for the parents that desperately needs to happen? Does the whole family need to take a three day weekend road trip to reconnect? Alternatively, do we need to recognize that we’re all exhausted and put big Xs on some weekends that says, “REST” is giant bold letters?
If you’ve fallen into the habit of eating out too often, doing a family meal plan can be a huge help. What if every family member came to the meeting with ONE meal suggestion for the week? Then, Mom or Dad could put all the ingredients on the shopping list that same day.
Having a plan eliminates stress later in the week, and when kids and teenagers make recommendations, they’re more likely to eat the meal.
Problems to Solve
Who is feeling overwhelmed? Does anyone need help with homework? Could Dad use some help cutting the lawn this week or getting dishes done? Does Mom really need a night to herself?
Sharing your burdens (in moderation) can create an environment where kids are more eager to help. When we are proactive rather than reactive, we get better reactions from kids.
Also, you can open this time up to talk about relationship challenges. Do we have a sibling rivalry going on? Did someone’s feelings get hurt and there was never an apology issued? Addressing it calmly and at an appropriate time can be really helpful. Parents should monitor this and make sure it’s not dominating the conversation on a regular basis. After all, we want to keep these meetings fun and light when possible.
Encouragement and Celebrations
Everyone did something worth celebrating this week, so parents should make sure they come to the meeting prepared to say something encouraging about each family member.
It doesn’t have to be something flashy, like winning a spelling bee or wrestling match. Simply improving table manners, being a great friend, memorizing a scripture, or helping out with the laundry without being asked can all be worth a family celebration.
How to Make It Fun
Family meetings (and family meeting agendas, in my opinion) should be fun. If they’re boring, it’s going to be like pulling teeth, and even you won’t want to do them for long.
Here are my thoughts on making family meetings a fun time for everyone.
Make attendance encouraged but optional for moody teenagers and reluctant partners.
Having a family member sit and pout or complain throughout the meeting isn’t good for anyone. If you’ve got a moody, reluctant teenager, don’t make a big deal out of it.
Just make it optional but enticing from the start. If you make them both meaningful and offer great snacks, you’re likely to get some level of willing participation from everyone.
Most of what needs to happen can take place without 100% participation.
Have favorite special snacks.
Each week, surprise the family with something new and different.
Perhaps one week, you could have caramel apples in October, or offer your best Christmas cookies once in December. If you have breakfast meetings, you could do strawberry waffles around Valentine’s Day.
Think outside the box and keep things fresh and exciting.
Better yet, involve older kids and spouses in the snack planning. Maybe one of your weekly agenda items could be planning the next week’s family meeting treat.
As an elementary school teacher, I can tell you that quiet doodling is rarely harmful to kids’ ability to listen. Play Doh can be really helpful, too.
Monitor adult talking time.
Family meetings are about welcoming participation from all ages and stages. If Mom or Dad hogs the airtime, it won’t feel inclusive and like a connection opportunity.
As parents, we tend to dominate the conversation, particularly about matters we think are serious. If we want things to feel fresh and exciting, we need to let kids participate. Even if it takes the conversation off track or slows us down.
Model great listening.
We can fuss and beg kids to listen to each other, but if we’re constantly interrupting and dominating the conversation (as mentioned above), they won’t learn the lesson.
Listening skills, mediation, heartfelt conversation – all of these things are better modeled than explicitly taught via lecturing or explaining.
Allow devices – some participation is better than none.
In an ideal world, your family would probably happily dock all devices for 30 minutes to an hour and give their undivided attention to the conversation.
That may not be practical or necessary for all families, so think deeply about what’s most important to you before you make strict demands about screen time at your meeting. It may not be worth the battle.
If you can have all your family happily participating but also texting a boyfriend occasionally or playing a game, is that better than a rebellious kid who is angry throughout the entire meeting?
You might also appreciate having your meal planning or calendar app readily available.
Put a jigsaw puzzle on the table.
Anything that invites collaboration and quality time together is worth a try. Is it possible that everyone will get distracted and ditch the agenda because you’re so close to finishing a puzzle? Sure!
But don’t miss the forest for the trees. The purpose of your family meeting is to create a sense of connectedness, peace, and organization. If you lose out on organization for one week and just love being around each other because working on your puzzle was so fun, then who cares?
Some kids like to fidget, and sitting still for a meeting is tough. Work with their natures, not against them.
Keep it NOTHING like school.
School takes up so much of their week. Anytime you’re hogging the microphone, requiring them to sit still, turn in their cell phones, or fill out a worksheet, you’re inviting trouble.
Focus on decision making and empowering all voices.
If everything you discuss could be theoretically handled via email, you’re doing it all wrong. No one likes meetings like that.
Focus on conversation, problem solving, group decision making, bonding, and lifting one another up. Be careful not to let “announcements” and demands about unmet expectations take over your meeting.
Stick (loosely) with your family meeting agendas.
Don’t get soooo attached to your family meeting agendas that you leave no room for spontaneity or extra sharing. Don’t block a good thing with blind adherence to a routine or document.
At the same time, don’t allow your meeting to go off the rails with something negative. If your meeting takes a turn for the worse, consider using your family meeting agenda to bring the conversation back around to a healthier place.
Avoid “It could have been an email!”
Free Family Meeting Agendas
These family meeting agendas are fun and fresh. I like these because they leave plenty of room for interpretation and can be easily adjusted based on your family’s needs. At the same time, they’re not totally vague.
This purple themed family meeting agenda has extra white space for your doodling family members.
The starry themed one above has more text to get the brain juices flowing. It also offers a simple guidance for reflecting called Roses, Thorns and Seeds, which our family uses regularly to recap the week.
This last family meeting agenda has less white space, but some families may enjoy the tidy little boxes. I find them quite easy on the eyes!