Conducting Your Family Meeting
Several years ago a colleague challenged me to contemplate the following scenario: “If you had only one day left, what would you teach your students?” Thankfully I never had to make such an ominous decision, but it certainly made me think hard about my potential response.
Parents who have read my last column may recall that I suggested spending some time together, thinking about and determining your most important, essential family principles or values. These are the rules and guidelines of behavior that parents would like their children to remember and live by for the rest of their lives.
After you have given yourselves relaxed and unencumbered time for deliberation and have identified your essential family principles, it is time to discuss them with your children. In order to successfully transmit them it is advised to conduct a family meeting. The following are helpful guidelines for conducting your meeting:
- Let your family know that you are planning a family meeting to discuss ideas that are most important for your family. Explain the concept of principles.
- Choose a time when everyone is available. It is important to make sure that enough time is available for a relaxed and uninterrupted conversation.
- Avoid all distractions, especially computers, cell phones and social media.
- Have one parent lead the meeting. Explain a few guidelines. For example:
1. Let everyone know that this is a discussion and that everyone is encouraged to share their ideas.
2. When explaining the principles you have chosen, use examples from your family’s real-life experiences.
3. Record everyone’s input
- Avoid criticism or value judgments regarding any contribution to the discussion.
- Refrain from interrupting anyone’s contribution. This may be difficult for some parents but a necessary rule for success.
- Parent modeling is crucial.
- Introduce each principle one at a time. This may take even more than one session. (It is best to choose from three to five core family principles.)
- All family members should participate in the meeting including pre-school children. (This is a process that can begin when children are quite young. While a 3-year-old will not likely understand the concept of principle, he is likely to understand the general concept of: “In our family we are nice to our brothers and sisters.”)
- To determine the length of the meeting, parents should use their best judgment based on prior experience.
- Review the content of the meeting to ensure everyone’s understanding.
- At the conclusion of your meeting, end on a positive note. Compliment your children on their ideas and effort. Serve a treat or snack (not during the meeting!) or plan a family fun activity.
- Schedule follow-up meetings at regular intervals.
Once there is a general understanding of the agreed-upon principles, success is best achieved when a situation arises that challenges one of the principles. This offers a timely opportunity to reconvene and discuss what has gone wrong, which principle may have been overlooked and to decide on measures to better respond in the future.
Achieving Your Goal
A wise man once told me that we teach our principles and values to our children in the years preceding their adolescence. Thereafter, they will learn to guide their behavior by reflecting off of your values.
The key to success in any long-term endeavor is maintaining consistency. This is especially true with parenting. Rather than seeking perfection in your efforts (which is essentially impossible), parents should strive to be as consistent as possible in helping the members of their family live according to their essential principles. By being true to what is important to the parents, their children will absorb and live according to what is important and meaningful to their parents.
If you are diligent in positively imparting your values to your children, perhaps one day in the future you will be blessed to hear one of your children say to one of his children, “In our family we…”
I would welcome your sharing with me your most important family principles. [email protected]
Stanley Fischman has been a yeshiva elementary school principal for 35 years.