Commentary: Household meetings give family life a boost

Editor’s note:  Bold print shows quotations from Dr. Goldsmith’s online article. Light print summarizes and includes some additions by Pat Thompson.

By Pat Thompson

Recently, I wrote about ways families can maintain their well-being in these challenging times. One of the ways suggested that households could keep a positive status quo was with effective family meetings.

Here are some ideas for making that household meeting a happy and productive one, based on “10 Tips for Holding a Family Meeting” by Dr Barton Goldsmith, Ph. D., LMFT.

Online highlights of family meeting guidelines of Dr. Barton Goldsmith, Ph. D., LMFT

 “10 Tips for Holding a Family Meeting”

  • A family meeting can be brief (e.g. 15 minutes) or longer depending on age of participants and the agenda. 
  • Dr. Goldsmith noted in his online article, “In my years of practice, [the family meeting] has proven to be one of the most effective and bonding things families can do to create greater harmony and experience more depth and connection with those they love.”  He added that [such meetings] “will be one of the highest return investments you will ever make.”

(Dr. Goldsmith and others demonstrate and discuss effective family and human behavior matters on YouTube.)

  • Meeting how-to:  An effective home meeting might include a broad purpose (e.g., to plan for the upcoming week), an agenda/outline of a few topics, a positive opening, and some guidelines for respectful family participation — sometimes created together by the family itself before the first meeting occurs.
  1.  Keep it upbeat.  Recall that the meeting is mainly about connecting.  Use positive, polite communication. Have an agenda and include a few upbeat or funny things along with serious ones.  Keep a sense of humor. 
  2. Don’t try to [over] control participation. Invite everyone in the family to join in. Keep things simple to avoid talking over anyone’s head.  Be prepared for occasional challenging moments, and plan how to handle them well.
  3. Encourage every person who lives in the home to join the meeting.   If there are in-laws,  other relatives, or a nanny, let them have some “air time.”  Perhaps ask a non-threatening question of anyone not participating to draw them in comfortably.
  4. Be creative with the meeting space.  It can be the kitchen table, dining room or (when feasible) a park — just so all are comfortable.
  5. Give everyone a chance to lead/record the meeting (offering needed support for younger ones). Keep a written record of decisions/agreements and also the week’s plans. Post one copy for all to see (e.g., on refrigerator).  Later file it in a binder or notebook.
  6. Be creative with the agenda.   A flexible agendalets family members propose discussion topics (under new business). Also, parents should avoid using the meeting to “preach” or over-teach and should follow through on positive things they say they will do.  This models good behavior by example,  the best form of teaching.
  7. End each meeting with a fun experience.  Family members can rotate in proposing in advance an upbeat ending,  something to watch or do together — a game, interactive activity, film, food, cooking, etc.  If one person’s ending activity is not feasible, in fairness let him/her influence or choose the closing activity for another day.
  8. Help each other resolve any issues. These meetings are a way to model positive behavior and to “inspire everyone that being close as a family is the best thing for all concerned.  Keep talking about things until everyone agrees or at least agrees that it’s OK to disagree.* 

Getting support and talking about choices (will model fairness and how to be a family.)

 In areas where there have been difficulties, point them out gently and don’t be punitive.   This will encourage everyone to ask for help where he or she needs it,” per Dr. Goldsmith.

  *If a weekly meeting is getting too long or if tension is running too high, it may be wise to take a short break or simply schedule a Part B later.

  • Consult a therapist when necessary.  Most every family has challenging times, and a professional can reduce or prevent issues plus offer helpful strategies. Therapy does not automatically mean a family is breaking up, or there is bad behavior.

FYI: Licensed family therapists are available for in-person help, and a growing number offer virtual appointments where all meet (even if in multiple locations) using Skype, Zoom, audio conference calls, etc.

  1. Remember that it’s never too late to become a family.  Be sure especially the first meeting (and ideally all) has an element of fun and optimism. 

Dr. Goldsmith emphasizes that most people have an innate desire to be part of a family.

One way to move toward that unity is to hold effective meetings in which all are included, heard, and treated with respect.

 If the first meeting does not go smoothly, try again. Consider when learning any sport,  skill, or musical instrument, how long it took with regular practice to become proficient. 

Also,  if some are reluctant to participate at first, keep the door open. They may do so when it’s clear it is successful and offers a fun closing activity.

Pat Thompson, M.A., M. Ed., lives in Dover.  She is a retired teacher and adjunct college professor who is trained in life coaching.