Tag Archives: family meetings

Family Meetings Fizzling? Here’s Help

Well run Family Meetings improve communication, let every voice be heard, save time, ease decision making, and are far too rare.


Every time I talked about family meetings at workshops or with parents seeking help, three responses predominated. Some parents said:

“Tried that. Didn’t work. No way I’m trying again.”
“Go to too many meetings at my job; all a waste of time.”
The third response would be a facial expression screaming “No, no.”

If I was lucky enough to get a family to talk about why their family meetings failed, the answers were pretty much the same:

“Too much complaining, too much whining, too much venting.”
“Took too long to get everyone to agree.”
“The kids sat silently and later complained we were first class dictators.”

I don’t blame the parents for failing; I blame the parent advice experts. Some of the advice mirrors my own: set an agenda, use go-round discussions, build fun into the process, have opening and closing rituals. Good advice.

However, is a sample of advice that made me screech like someone stepped on a sore toe; it is from an article in Parenting Magazine:

The best approach to planning family meetings is probably to set up the expectation that the whole family will meet to try to make decisions and solve problems together.

Hog wash, humbug and a set up for dissent and difficulty. Mostly a plea for democracy. However, democracy works when there are strong, caring leaders who know what needs to happen, who know what is possible, and who don’t let the kids vote until they are at least eighteen and in many places, twenty-one.

Contrary to popular opinion as reflected in most of the parenting advice floating around, a family run as a democracy does not work. Let me repeat that: A family run as a democracy does not work.

Families work best when parents take on the role of benign dictators. Be very clear, I am talking about benign dictatorships not the ones invested in getting the trains to run on time and the masses bowing or saluting un-elected and cruel leaders.

Here are my tips for becoming a benign family meeting leader and having half a chance of running a successful family meetings:

1. Repeat and believe the following mantra. For two parent families: “Us, our house, our wallet, our rules.” For a single parent home: “Me, my house, my wallet, my rules.

2. Do not work to keep everyone happy, allow everyone to vent, or allow full participation in the problem solving process. Your job as a parent is to  pay the bills, assure children kept safe and properly cared for, not to assure happiness.

3. Make the rules and punishments are clear,  fair, just,  realistic, and work for the betterment of all, are

4. Allows a few decisions to be reached by consensus or vote, but do so carefully, and if dissent arises,  exercise the benign dictator’s right to rule.

5. Do not allow pop-corning. Pop-corning lets participants speak at random. Instead use the go-round facilitation style. The facilitator asks the questions or poses a comment for discussion at the start of each go-round; the others respond one by one. As each person responds, the facilitator merely nods or say “Thank you.”

If during a go-round someone speaks rudely, speaks about another person’s view instead of their own, the facilitator says “Please stay on topic, and repeats the question or item for discussion.

A Reality Check: If you have been following the “Siblings Without Rivalry,” soft love ideas that parents are responsible for their child’s feelings and happiness becoming a benign dictator model will not be easy.

Moreover, the kids will protest. Wouldn’t you if someone instead of focusing exclusively on your happiness, started to tell you a variation of “Suck it up, Buttercup”.

What to do? Announce the change in parenting styles. Reframe it as the next step to adulthood. Say something like this:

“You are at the age, when you need to learn what it means to be an adult and that means attending and participating in meetings like a grown up. We are going to have Family Meeting and I am going to run them like a hard-nosed boss.

Second reality check: If your parenting style has been that of Marine Commander ala The Great Santini, meaning you either don’t have family meetings or use them to issue edicts to your sullen or frightened subjects. You will need to reverse tactics and follow the more usual advice of letting your subjects make more decisions, and giving them more rewards. Your mantra needs to be “Their life, their needs.”

Final reality check: Expect stress whether this is your first attempt to hold a family meeting or a renewed attempt. If switching parent styles is part of the process that will add more stress. Here’s an introduction to EFT’s Self-soothing skills. So a tip or two about dealing with that stress.

Tip one: Keep your expectations realistic. Hold six meetings and then figure out if they are working. If working, take everyone out for ice cream or to the movies as a reward. If not working, think about having a parent coach come and help get things on track be possible?

Tip two: Work to improve your self-soothing skills. Practice my Daily Twelve Emotional Fitness Exercises. Here’s an introductory link. For more on self-soothing, consider buying my eBook, Self-soothing To Create Peace In Your LIfe. It costs less than a latte and lasts longer.

Tip three: If all family times are mad or sad times, consider seeking a competent professional consultation.

Thank you for all you do

Practice kindness. Remember to share all you find of value on the internet.  All who post crave recognition. A like says “Thank You.” Comments say you have read and thought about the post. Sharing is a gift to three people: the blogger, the people you share with, and you for your kindness blesses you.

Stay strong, it takes some effort for life can be a painful struggle.


Post Inspiration: This post was not inspired  by the WordPress Daily  Prompt:  Clean.

Go here to learn more about the Daily Prompts.

Links of Interest

These links are for those not familiar with Emotional Intelligence or the idea of Emotional Fitness.

Disclaimer two: Take all advice even mine, carefully.  Don’t just listen to your heart, but also think; don’t just think, listen to your heart.  Heart and head working together increase the odds you will find useful advice amid all the promises and hopes pushed at you be others.  As others have noted, take what seems useful, leave the rest.

Disclaimer two: Forgive my grammatical errors

If  you need perfect posts, you will not find them  here;  I will understand if you don’t follow, like or share what  like me.  Not only am I dealing with an aging brain, but all of my life I have been plagued by dysgraphia–a learning disability,  Some of my posts might be peppered with bad spelling, poor punctuation, and worse words that make no sense.  If  you want to hang in with me, thank you; you are kind. If a post doesn’t make sense or bugs you too much, stop reading, I will understand.




The ability to accept responsibility for unacceptable behavior by apologizing is a major emotional fitness skill.  Proper apologies heal rifts that otherwise can end relationships.  As with most emotional fitness skills, this one needs to be taught.

Emotional Fitness Training Skill Building Poster

My mother could explode in anger. She never got physical with her anger, but her emotional tirades had the force of a small atomic bomb.  Tied to her body’s hormonal swings, the angry bombs were often dropped illogically.  Something ignored the previous day detonated emotional blasts that terrified, confused, and hurt me. I would end up crying in my room.  In time my father would collect me and take me down to rejoin the family and the incident would be over until the next time.  The family rule was to pretend nothing had happened. My mother would not apologize; my father would not explain.  Not good.

It was when my father was dealing with the cancer that killed him that he said “I’m sorry.”  He was sorry he hadn’t spent more time with us.  For me, then a grown up, it was an apology for all his flaws and particularly for not protecting me from my mother’s tirades.  It was a healing moment for both of us.   Then when my mother died, I had a sense her spirit hovered around me like a warm blanket asking me to forgive her.  A major healing moment.

Don’t make your children wait so long to hear “I’m sorry.”

PARENTING ADVICE FOR TEACHING children to apologize 

Tip one:  You teach this as you teach so many things. How? By example.  If you are comfortable with saying you are sorry, your children will be too. So examing your comfort level with admitting wrong and apologizing. Easy? Good for you. Not so easy?  Make it easier. Work on it. Set a goal of apologizing at least three times to someone every day. One of those times can be by letter or email.

I am sorry if asking you to do that burdened you. I hope doing so benefits you and your child and that will help you will forgive me.

Tip two: Remember age and stage.  With those just learning to talk who have hurt another put the words for a simple apology in their mouths: “Tell your sister, ‘Sorry I hurt you’.”

Once the child has the hang of an apology, you can coach more simply with raised eyebrows and the word “Sorry” asked as a question or in some situations given as a command.

Don’t go for a perfect apology, say a “Thank you” for any attempted effort that approaches an apology.

Three and four year olds can be taught the art of making amends.

By the time a child can read, make the art of  apologizing the subject of a family meeting. Don’t hold family meetings?  Shame on you. Oops, sorry for using those three words.

It might help you to know one of the things I didn’t do as a good enough parent was hold family meetings. Shame on me.  The idea never occurred to me until I was directing a mental health service and started training for what were called Family Network Meetings. Once I was taught how, I taught others.  In time,  I decided the best way to train parents was to teach them to hold successful family meetings; I used a business meeting model and in time wrote a book about how to hold a successful family meeting. Yes, that is a plug.

Back to the business of age and stage.  Preteens and teens can be helped to write letters of apology.

Tip Three: Let go of perfectionism. One of the things that hinders the ability to apologize is expecting perfection from yourself.  Not good.

Even though my mother was emotionally abusive, my father not protective enough, and neither good at apologizing, they were good enough parents.  They off set their flaws with love, modelling many of the skills that became Emotional Fitness Training, Inc. and acts of kindness. If you are reading this that is a sign you are a good enough parent.


Remember what matters; teach your children good manners; apologizing is one and manners matter; so do hugs, practicing kindness, laughing, and playing together.

As always for all your sharing and caring, I thank you.


Links to articles of interest

How to apologise: Wikihow

Ask men: How to apologise

How to hold successful family meetings


Before a child starts walking you can teaching them the skills needed to participate in family meetings. How? Using sign language.


“Your turn,””Stop,” “All done,” “Wait,” and “Quiet” were  among the first signs I taught my grandsons. Didn’t teach your kids  signs?  No matter, start using them now.   To use at a family meeting, make a copy of my little poster print it up and post it during the meeting.  As soon as every family member learns the signs, they will use them to keep others on track also.

Stay strong

Here comes the commercial ‘How To Hold Successful Family Meetings’is  available on Amazon Kindle free until midnight June 25th

Thank all who practice kindness,  sharing and caring, you make a difference, you make the world better.



Want to  hold family meetings, but still scared or just too overwhelmed to think about getting started. Here’s help. Start small, but work up to this.

 Jo Frost is a pro. As shown in this video, every one of her shows demonstrates a small family business meeting. Usually, it is to set the rule changes. Every family member is there no matter their age. Rules and consequences are laid out. Then of course comes the hard part, bringing the kids in line with the new rules. But the rule changes start with a family meeting. 

Jo does not use the format I suggest, but her no nonsense, these are the rules like them or not approach is the stance you are seeking to model. You can start working toward that goal today.

Parenting advice about starting family meetings 

Here are my tips for a slow start to family meetings.

Tip one: Practice Jo’s no-nonsence stance.  One of the things I used to do at workshops was ask the participants to tell me when they knew their parents meant business. The answers varied from “The Look” to “The Voice” to “His belt coming off” or “The switch came out.”

The point? Kids know when you mean business and the game is up for dis-obeying. Too many of us warn and warn and warn, and slowly heat up until we mean business. Believe me I know that.

But a little practice modeling Jo’s demeanor combined with the word’s “I mean business.” is actually the start of getting the kids ready to have family meetings.  You can even say it with a bit of anger.  Few of us can stay as calm and cool as Super Nanny and I suspect being in front of the cameras helps her maintain her cool.

Tip two:  Start labeling activities as family meetings. Going to the park to play? Family Fun Meeting. Going to visit family?  Family Visit Meeting. Need to discuss a serious lapse in rules? “I need to have a Family Business Meeting with you, right now.”

You already have those kinds of meetings, labeling them as Family Meetings or Family Business Meetings gets the ball rolling for more formal meetings.

Tip three: Big news for all the family? Going to be moving to a new town, a new house? Planning on buying a new car?  New baby coming? A beloved relative coming to visit? Discussing this as a family in a more formal Family Meeting is best.

Gather everyone around the dining room table with the announcement: “We have family business to discuss.”  Make the announcement and then put my Family Meeting rules in play. End with the meeting with a treat.

Tip four: Never beat up on yourself for not doing everything a parent is supposed to do.  The idea of formal family business meetings didn’t occur to me when raising my children.  I wish it had and now do call for an occasional family meeting to discuss issues of mutual concern.  My kids might have been strengthened if I had had meetings, but they turned out just fine. Most kids in good enough families do.

I learned about the value of family meetings when directing Mental Health Family Support programs.  I am now convinced of their value.  So I preach and teach how to hold them. Not to add a burden, but because I have seen family after family  get better organized, reduce stress, communicate better, and improve family togetherness when they add formal family business meetings to their life.

Stay strong

Here comes the commercial ‘How To Hold Successful Family Meetings’is  available on Amazon Kindle free until midnight June 25th.  Still not convinced that your family could benefit? Think again. Here’s a fantastic recommendation for this eBook:

As a licensed clinical social worker and family therapist, I have the distinct pleasure of helping family members communicate better and connect with one another. Helping parents step into their role as “leader” in the family is often part of the process. For a parent, knowing how to effectively be in charge can be at the top of the list of parental challenges. And as many parents know, when they are not effective, general chaos can ensue, children run the ship, and parents get run ragged. After reading Katherine Gordy Levine’s How to Hold Successful Family Meetings, I was both inspired and encouraged to introduce my families to this simple and thorough approach to family communication. The book offers explanations for communication breakdowns in families, solutions for repairing the breakdowns, and tips for strengthening bonds between family members. It does more than that, though. It reminds parents to be kind to themselves! They are already “good-enough parents”.

It is true that parents today sometimes get caught in a power struggle with their children. The firm authoritative voice of parents past is often replaced by `parents as friends’ or parents saying “I am just not there enough, and I feel guilty, so I give in”. Something as simple as regular communication can calm the struggle and restore the parent’s natural abilities to guide their children. Holding scheduled and consistent family meetings in which all family members have an opportunity to talk about concerns, goals, hopes, weekly accomplishments, house duties, and agenda-items, such as “family fun events”, allows family members to listen to each other better, be more direct with each other, and have fun together once family business is done.

As stated in the book, the family meetings are designed in the same manner as a business meeting is run, a “family business” meeting. Everyone is allowed the same amount of time to speak, there is an agenda, meeting minutes are kept, there are rules, such as Respect Self and Others, and there are consequences when the rules are broken. The book also addresses potential concerns a parent may have about their ability to hold such meetings and their confidence about whether their child/ren can successfully participate. Step-by-step direction, encouragement, and understanding are offered throughout the book. Parents are even given suggestions for responding to non-participation, non-compliance, and “other strategies for success”. Families need guidance and in our new world of gadgets and technology, “family time around the table” has all but faded into the past. This book offers a solution and walks the parent gently through the process. I will definitely be recommending this book to my families.

Colleen Marie Cavanagh, MS, LCSW
ww.colleenmcavanagh.com from Amazon.com

Thank you Colleen.  you made me feel my efforts are  worth while. Thank all the others who share and care, you make a difference, you make the world better.