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Family Meetings

Tips for Running Productive Family Meetings

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Updated March 31, 2010

Family Meetings

Family meetings are a wonderful way for family members to come together, proactively solve problems, set family goals and foster positive communication.

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Family meetings provide parents with a positive opportunity to teach their children problem solving, negotiation, and communication skills. This is particularly important for families with children who have ADHD.

ADHD can make coping with the typical demands of family life much more difficult. It can also result in increased conflict and strain in sibling relationships. Positive family relationships play an important role in child development and healthy family functioning. Family meetings allow family members to come together, proactively solve problems, set family goals and improve overall communication. Here are some tips for running your family meetings.

Family Meetings

  • Set up a regular, consistent time for the family meetings. Weekly seems to work well for many families, but you may find that more frequently or less frequently works best for your family. It is helpful to keep the meetings to a consistent time limit, as well. For younger children 15 minutes may be all they can handle. For older kids, 30 minutes may be needed. Again, tailor the time to your own family. And of course, family members can request a special meeting if important issues come up before the regularly scheduled family meeting.

  • Have a prepared meeting agenda. Purchase a simple notebook (your “official family meeting notebook”) and set it out in a designated spot the day before the meeting. Family members will use the open notebook page to write down the problem they’d like to resolve at the meeting. If your child has difficulty with writing and spelling, you can provide support as he or she writes or you can have your child dictate concerns to you. It is essential that family members understand that the focus of the meeting is to resolve problems. It is not to scapegoat, criticize, punish or complain. Preparing in advance like this often helps children to be more thoughtful, less impulsive and more planful in the problem solving process – an important skill for all children to cultivate, but especially important for children with ADHD.

  • There are two main rules that family members must follow during the meetings.

    1. Be Respectful of Others
    2. Wait Your Turn to Speak (No Interrupting)

    Review these rules before every family meeting. It is often helpful to have the children take turns reading or reciting the rules themselves. You may need to give your ADHD child extra help with the wait your turn rule. It often helps to sit beside your impulsive child to give him or her a little extra support.

  • As a parent, your role is to enforce the two rules, follow the agenda, facilitate the problem solving, keep the meeting on task, and maintain a positive, solution-focused atmosphere.

  • Family members take turns speaking without interruption. It is often helpful to set a timer to ensure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to share. Your children may want to set the timer themselves at their turn. This gives each child a greater sense of control and responsibility.

  • The steps of your family meeting may look something like this:

    A family member identifies a problem to be resolved. If it is a child who is presenting the issue, the parent may want to briefly summarize and reflect concerns back for clarity after the child has shared (don’t forget the positive feedback, as well).

    “Jamie, good job sharing! I like the way you were able to state the problem clearly and in a respectful way. You are frustrated because someone has been going into your room without your permission. Your room is messier than when you left it. You are also missing items from your room and can’t find things when you need them.” Now Jamie knows she has been heard and understood. If the other children are able to appropriately do this, they may want to take turns being the designated person to summarize the concerns after another family member has presented.

    Next, family members brainstorm possible solutions. Each member is encouraged to come up with ideas. One of the parents (or other family member) writes down all the ideas, then family members narrow down the list and select the best solution to try. If one of the family members acknowledges that he or she is the one who has been going into the room, this member is praised for being honest and is asked to be active in narrowing down the solutions and following through with the set goal.

    Of course, this child may also have issues related to the situation - “The reason I go into Jamie’s room is because she keeps taking the Nintendo game and I go into her room to look for it.” In this case, more problem solving needs to take place between the siblings with each working on solutions. Review progress in the next meeting. If the problem continues, try some of the alternative solutions from the list. Be sure to point out and reward progress. You may also need to actively support the children during the week to help them in continuing to work on the problem.

  • Don’t forget to use these family meetings to exchange positive feedback, as well. Not only does this exchange bring about good feelings, but it also identifies behaviors that you want to see and teaches family members the importance of “building each other up.”

  • And you don’t have to use family meetings solely for problem solving. It is also a great way just to get together regularly as a family and to talk about other family issues like planning fun activities - vacations, game nights, special dinners, etc.

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