Your Most Important Meeting This Week
You take immense pride in arriving 15 minutes early to every appointment. Your schedule is so well organized that each child’s respective activities are color-coded. Most times, your day functions fairly seamlessly and when it doesn’t, you acknowledge human frailty and can let it go.
Yet, most children don’t yet possess those types of organizational skills, nor do they play a substantive role in generating their own schedules. From their perspective, they are often schlepped from bed to school, then activities or sports, a hurried dinner and — hopefully — a nice shower and bed. There often isn’t much discussion or input given by children; mostly the parent is just trying not to be late for the next activity.
What if one simple change in how we ran our family life could lead to an overall better functioning of the family unit?
It’s called the weekly family meeting: a standing meeting, each week, which allows members an opportunity to reflect on the week’s events, share news and express concerns. It also is an opportune time to announce schedule changes, like changes in bedtime or homework schedules.
For example, if Mom, who had previously been home in the evening, plans to take a night job, the family’s routine will be changing. Rather than finding the “right” time to share the news, a scheduled family meeting provides the perfect forum to introduce the news. Gathering around as a family, with all members attending, is a great opportunity for everyone to give input and discuss their feelings. This could reduce the possibility of unnecessary anxiety.
Sometimes, changes that may seem small or simple to adults are huge disruptions for children. Having the opportunity to discuss upcoming events in a neutral setting, with consistent regularity, is both useful and important for children. Their knowing that they have the meeting to look forward to is stress reducing in itself, especially if they have something to share that might not be so favorable.
In addition, it’s not just parents who should contribute to the family meeting; children often have thoughts they want to share. Older children may use this time to ask for more privileges or something special — or to share their not-so-great progress report. (Go easy on them in that case because if they are waiting for this time to discuss it, they are obviously anxious about your reaction.)
There are a couple of key points to keep in mind for your family meeting:
• Try and keep it around the same time every week; consistency is really important if you want the benefits to stand out.
• Children under 5 are really too young to contribute in a meaningful way.
• Mealtime is a good opportunity to hold your meeting; it guarantees the family is together since everyone has to eat.
• Make sure everyone has a chance to speak. Even if your home isn’t really a democracy, this meeting should be run like one.
When we sit down and ask our children how their week went or if there is something they want to discuss, we are validating their feelings. Validation helps children build coping skills and, most importantly, nurtures their self-confidence.
Confident children do better in social situations, ask questions in school when they don’t know the answer and are willing to take on more challenging tasks.
Rebecca Zusel, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker. She and her husband, Matt, live in West Bloomfield with their three children, ages 7, 5 and 2. To learn more about this subject, visit her website at ahand2help.com.