One of the most common questions that both individual clients and parenting class participants ask me is, "Should we have family meetings?" If you haven't heard of them, a family meeting is a scheduled gathering of family members to discuss rules, goals, schedules, values and more. Many parenting and family therapists recommend these meetings, and I'm not opposed to them—unless you use any of the following three techniques, which will lead to some seriously bad meetings and ultimately, dysfunctional family relationships:
1. Be really unclear about expectations. Here's what I hear parents say they want their children to do something differently, "Be respectful. Clean up after yourself. Help out around the house. Be happier and nicer." As worthy as all of these expectations are, they are completely unclear to children. What exactly does "respectful" mean in your home? Can they roll their eyes and sigh; can they tell you if they're unhappy about something; can they yell, scream and call you names? What exactly does cleaning up after yourself include? Should they pick up their clothes, backpacks or dishes?
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If you want your family meeting to go well and to be functional, get clear with your kids. Do your homework before the meeting and then share with your children exactly what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and what the consequences will be for the unacceptable kind. Don't be vague and don't expect them to know what you mean if you aren't clear about it.
2. Lecture, criticize and complain. If you want to make sure that your children dread the words "family meeting" from here on out, then make sure you do lots of lecturing, criticizing and complaining. Kids hate to hear you go on and on. If you're lucky, they will be listening to you for the first line or two of your lecture and then they'll be off in fantasy land plotting the next way to drive you crazy.
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Instead, keep it simple, keep it positive and keep it clear. Tell them what you want, how and when to do it, and then move on. You might want to consider taking lecturing out of your parenting repertoire completely. It's a lose/lose situation. You won't feel good about yourself after you've done it, your kids will learn to tune you out and you will have decreased the likelihood of them cooperating and communicating with you in the future. Keep reading...
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