an appropriate age for family meetings? Signed, My 3 year
old daughter won’t go to bed and is driving me crazy.
It looks like you’ve presented two issues,
so let’s start with the first one about family meetings.
Never underestimate your child’s ability to participate
and benefit from a family meeting. I have done them with success
with children 15 months old and would not hesitate to include
an infant. The thing to remember is that you are creating
a format so that you can come up with solutions as a family.
This makes the family unit the authority instead of just you
(which is a set up for power struggles). So when you begin
having meetings don’t expect them to be the cure all.
Instead break them down into steps to ensure success. Here
are the things to remember:
Family meetings should occur once a week on the same day,
at the same time.
Schedule a meeting between meals when folks are rested. I
like 11 am because we have recently had snack and had some
outdoor time, so we are ready to sit and listen and participate.
Sit at a cleared table, turn off the tv and phone.
Use a talking stick, only the person with the stick can talk.
Take turns leading the meeting and writing the minutes, keep
a journal. It will remind you of what you did and it will
be loads of fun to read years down the road.
REMEMBER: Meetings are for finding solutions, NOT FOR GRIPING
OR BLAMING. (If folks need to gripe, schedule a gripe session
for another time. At the gripe session set the timer for one
minute and everyone gets to gripe at the same time. You’ll
all end up laughing.)
For the first month follow this format:
Open the meeting by passing the stick around and inviting
each person to share what they are grateful for. Thank everyone
for their contributions, even the little one who says, “I
Pass the talking stick and have everyone make suggestions
about what fun family activity you can do right after the
Vote on the suggestions. Expect the little ones to vote for
each option. Don’t correct them, they’ll get it
eventually. Be sure that the parents don’t always vote
Close the meeting by letting the leader choose a song for
everyone to sing.
SERVE DESSERT! IT’S A GREAT WAY TO GET THOSE OLDER CHILDREN
Go do the fun family activity.
The second month:
Introduce compliments. Pass the stick and have each person
compliment themself. Alternate gratefuls and self compliments
Introduce issues. Pass the stick and ask each person, “Do
you have an issue that you would like help solving?”
Address the first CHILD issue that is presented. (Save adult
issues for the next month.).
Pass the stick and have each person make a suggestion for
a solution. If someone doesn’t have one let them “PASS”.
Have two solutions yourself in case no one offers one. Make
sure solutions are RELATED, RESPECTFUL AND REASONABLE!
Let the person with the issue decide: either they choose a
solution or the family votes. Vote if the issue concerns the
Sing. Have dessert.
The third month:
Introduce complimenting each other. Have each person compliment
the person sitting next to them (let the leader decide which
direction to go) by acknowledging something that person did.
Now alternate gratefuls, self acknowledgments and complimenting
others, one per meeting.
Introduce the written agenda. Folks may write, draw a picture,
or dictate their issue. Vote on how may issues they can write
each week. Post the agenda in a central location. When someone
comes to report an issue invite them to write it on the agenda.
Follow the agenda in sequence. Ask each person if it is still
an issue for them. Often times they have resolved it themself.
Ask if they would like to share how they solved their problem.
Adults may begin to present an issue. ONLY ONE ADULT ISSUE
PER MEETING FROM HERE ON OUT! I suggest that the first time
one parent present an issue about the other parent to help
the children realize that it’s not the adults versus
Phrase your issue this way: “I am having a problem with
(the situation). Can you please help me come up with a solution?”
Folks want to help us when we take responsibility for us having
a problem rather than blaming others.
Strive to arrive at a consensus where everyone agrees on one
solution so the family is not divided on issues that involve
the family as a whole. Frame the solutions as “an experiment”
that you’re going try for a week. If someone isn’t
happy with the outcome, including yourself, then they can
put it on the agenda for the next meeting.
If you haven’t done so already, vote on how long the
meetings will last. I recommend that you keep them short,
so folks will continue to want to attend. (If an older child
does not want to attend, that’s fine. Once they realize
that decisions are being made for them they might change their
Extras: A family member may call a mid- week meeting, if desired.
As children get older, use family meetings to schedule everyone’s
events for the coming week and enter them on a calendar.
Schedule date nights: FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR:
One per week.
Week 1: Dad & child A, Mom & child B
Week 2: Dad and Mom
Week 3: Dad & child B, Mom & child A
Week 4: Family Date
Everyone follows the agreed on solutions until
they reappear on the agenda. NO FALLING BACK ON THE ADULT’S
RETAKING CHARGE (unless of course it’s a safety issue.)
Have a meeting each week even when there are no issues. Have
News Period instead.
REMEMBER: You are setting the stage for the future by creating
a format that your family will be so familiar with that when
you REALLY have issues you’ll be able to solve them
as a family in a respectful, cooperative way.
Single parent or roommate family units can have meetings as
well as larger family units. Use the same format. I know of
one family of three in which the teenage son and Dad refused
to participate. Mom kept an agenda, and had a meeting with
herself in a locked bathroom, with the mirror. She got clear
on how she felt about things and decided how SHE was going
to handle things, NOT HOW SHE WAS GOING TO TRY TO MAKE OTHERS
DO THINGS. Then she informed the family of her conclusions.
I often wonder if son and Dad came around.
Classes can use this format too. Place chairs in a big circle.
PHEW! Now onto part two: My 3 year old won’t go to bed
and she’s driving me crazy.
I can hardly let that go by without addressing it! Yes, certainly
bring it up at a family meeting! And as you can see, it’s
going to be a few months until you can bring up an issue,
so let’s see what your options are in the meantime.
You could try having a heart to heart chat about it in a neutral
moment and try to find out what your 3 year old needs to go
to bed more peacefully. Maybe the two of you can compromise
on a plan that meets both your needs. Look at what you can
do environmentally too. By that I mean rethink your bedtime
routine and involve your child in creating a new one. Write
down everything that needs to happen before bed. Estimate
how long each step takes, and go backwards from the time you
want lights out to figure out when you need to start. Include
a bath with some soothing oils. Play the same soothing CD
every night. Help your child create inner resources to help
him/her feel safe. Inner resources can include: stuffed animals
arranged around the bed (don’t do this with infants
though—it’s a safety issue!), or imaginary creatures
of his choosing that come come to his aid and offer comfort
and support. If “monsters” are an issue make some
magic “monster spray” to spray around. Be sure
to cut back on nap time too. Maybe 1/2 hour is enough, or
simply some down time with a book. Get in lots of tiring activities
in the afternoon to make sure your child is ready for bed!
Bear through the melt downs before dinner, consider earlier
meals for a few weeks and try to keep your child up so they’ll
get to bed between 7-8 pm and sleep until morning. Keep your
chin up. You’ll figure out something that works. We’re
all rooting for you!