Dr. Paul on starting the new year with a family meeting

Monthly meetings can help you make incremental changes over the school year and summer break.

In the new year, kids start a new term in school. It’s a great time to reflect on autumn’s activities.

How was family life? How did the kids do in school? What about homework and housework? Were there moments of pause and peace? What were the big and small wins for each family member? What do you wish had gone differently?

Kids and parents start every school year with high hopes. John pledges he won’t procrastinate completing math homework. Sarah promises she will keep her room neat and clean. Bill vows that he will get to school on time. Children are the ultimate optimists. Everyone wants this new year to be better than last year.

Parents consider how to have more quality family time, more time to pursue their own interests, more time for romance, and how to fit in exercise and healthy eating. The new school year provides us with an opportunity to recalibrate our lives.

But then, later in the fall, when the going gets tough, pizza three nights a week seem like a great idea. Sadly, last year’s challenges can become this year’s high hurdles. It’s hard to change habits and even harder to alter our identities.

So, how do we move forward going into 2020? Plan a family meeting with these key ideas in mind.

Timing is important. When our kids were in school, we had regular family meetings to discuss bedtime, chores, school, activities and how to get along better. We made them regular events, so that the kids were familiar with the structure. Sometimes they resisted participating, especially when they were teens. But more often than not, they wanted to have a voice in family life decisions.

A monthly meeting is more doable than weekly gatherings. Pick a time when everyone can be truly present — not in the middle or beginning of a busy day. Let the kids know, well in advance of the meeting, what topics you want to discuss. Ask them to consider what they would like to talk about.

Focus on the positive first. Kids expect to hear all of your complaints — too much screen time, bedtimes gone awry and homework put off to the last minute. Instead, talk about everything that went well. Highlight what’s improved. Share what you admire about each child. Look them straight in the eye and let them know what you appreciate. You will be surprised how this sets up a positive experience for everyone.

Only one person speaks at a time. Use a talking stick — a family member can only speak when they have the stick in their hand. Ask everyone to consider what they learned about themselves during the autumn and what they expected in the new year? How can we improve family life? This will naturally lead family members to think about how to address problem areas, without focusing on the negative.

Finish by making commitments. Make sure that expectations are clearly set, written down and posted prominently. Ask each family member to make a commitment — one thing that they will do to improve family life.

Family meetings create opportunities to make incremental changes over the school year and summer that improve family life. Give them a try!

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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