Kids need opportunities to learn how to be a part of a team. They need to learn how to bring up issues and how to solve problems. They need to learn how to sit quietly and let others speak. They need to learn how to listen. And they need to internalize that family is a safe place where they have a voice.
My boys need to learn how to appreciate each other's differences and how to manage their issues with each other. And I need to learn how to manage my issues with them. That's right, I have issues.
- Our house is too loud, much of the time.
- I didn't play with the toys, I am not putting them away.
- The tiny toddler makes this unworldly screaming noise when he is frustrated. Or when he doesn't get his way. Or when he is tired. This must stop.
- While I enjoy meal planning I would like input from the men in my life who show up at the dinner table every night.
- The cars are too messy. (OK, that is my sweet husband's issue, but I totally agree.)
After announcing to my husband that we were going to start meeting every Sunday evening as a family and laying out the rules, we held our first meeting. What rules, you say?
- Meeting to be held in dining room, away from toys and TV.
- No toys at meeting.
- Everyone gets a chance to talk.
- Everyone must say at least one good thing about their past week and one good thing about someone else at the table.
- All decisions are final. No whining!
We reviewed the schedule for the week, including all of my super six year old's school activities and lunch menu. Whether to pack or buy is a huge topic of conversation in our home. We ended the meeting quickly after we opened it due to the super six year old's lack of interest and the tiny toddler crawling around the dining room table meowing. But I considered it a success.
I posted a Family Meeting Agenda on the fridge and all topics that came up throughout the week that needed further discussion went onto the agenda. Good thoughts about my boys, all three of them, also went on the agenda, under "Good News". This way we don't forget the nice things we want to say about each other by the time Sunday evening rolls around.
In the middle of the week the super six year old asked to go to COSI. Actually, he asked to either go to COSI or Mexico. Not sure why Mexico, but COSI? Yeah, we can do that. Put it on the agenda.
Yet another bout of young boys running around the downstairs screaming. And another. This must stop! Put it on the agenda.
My sweet husband pushed to near craziness over the mess of toys and snacks in the backseat of the car. Put it on the agenda!
Once it is on the agenda we don't need to keep talking about it. This is a tip I learned early on in my career, when I first became addicted to the Franklin Planner system. Once it is written down, once it is planned for, there is no need for further discussion. Whew.
Our second family meeting followed the same patterns as the first. The tiny toddler continued to climb onto the table. Everyone continued to speak over each other. But we accomplished our goals.
We have a potential date for a trip to COSI. We have a plan for creating "centers" so that the running around screaming game will be timed and will only be allowed for 30 minutes. After that, they will move to a new center somewhere else in the house.
We have reviewed the toy pick up rules. Again.
We have reviewed the fact that cleaning out the car has been on the weekly cleaning schedule for months. We have solidified that no one except me reads the cleaning schedules posted on the side of the refrigerator. Good times.
But we have done so much more. Our boys are hearing the discussions between my sweet husband and I regarding day care pick ups, school drop offs, who is driving who to which activity. They are seeing that to keep a family running takes planning. They are learning that I will listen when they tell me what they want for dinner, as long as they don't ask for candy and Popsicles. They are learning how good it feels when someone notices their good actions. They are learning to speak up, to solve problems, to understand the value of planning. They are finding their voice. And they are solidifying their place in our family.
So two family meetings later I am happy with our baby steps. I am sure that next week the tiny toddler will still be climbing onto the dining room table. I am sure that the super six year old will complain that he would rather be watching TV. I am sure that "picking up your toys" will always be on the agenda. But I am also sure that the tiny toddler will continue to hear praise on his amazing successes. I am sure that the super six year old will continue to love planning the after meeting family activity. So far we have raced remote controlled cars, as a family, all four of us running around the living room with our remotes. We have finger painted, as a family. Who knows what we will do next week. My young man takes the planning of these activities very seriously.
Every day we have set backs. Every day I dodge shoes thrown at me from the back seat or clean up dinner from under the kitchen table. So we have our set backs. And we have our successes. And now my boys have a way for their voices to be heard. Behavior experts say that family meetings can solve a myriad of behavior problems. We shall see. But at the very least these meetings allow for planning and praise, which is really what it takes to run a successful family, right?