Family Meetings

This is a great read written by my favourite parenting expert, Dr. Jane Nelsen. It is a simple “how to” for implementing family meetings.


Family Meetings

by Dr. Jane Nelsen

It is difficult for me to choose a favorite Positive Discipline parenting tool, but family meetings are at the top. Children learn so much during family meetings, such as listening, respecting differences, verbalizing appreciation, problem-solving, and experiencing that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn and focusing on solutions. I have a much longer list, but you get the idea. Family meetings also create a family tradition and will create many memories.

One of my favorite stories is about a time my teenagers started complaining about family meetings—that they were stupid and lame. I empathized, told them we could shorten them, but to humor me because they were so important to me.

During this period, 17-year-old Mary spent the night with a friend. She came home the next day and declared, “That family is so screwed up. They should have family meetings.”

Why are family meetings so difficult?

Since family meetings are so important, why do so many families avoid taking the time to implement them? And, when they do, why do they have so many challenges?

One parent wrote about her frustrations with trying to implement family meetings sharing that her eight-hear-old son constantly displayed his new talent for burping during the meetings, and her five-year-old “freaks out” when anyone brainstorms a suggestion she doesn’t like.

Part of the problems could be that parents don’t take enough “time for training.” They may expect their children to have all the necessary skills for family meetings. When you think about it, this makes as much sense as expecting children to have the vocabulary of a college student the first year they start speaking.

Children under the age of four may not be developmentally ready to learn the skills for family meetings. If they are interruptive during family meetings (instead of being willing to play quietly), wait until they are asleep to have family meeting with older children. These first few meetings should take about 5 minutes.

A Family Meeting Training Plan

Week One: The Agenda

Introduce the five components of family meetings. Let your family know you will be spending as many weeks as it takes to learn each component.

  1. The Agenda
  2. Compliments
  3. Brainstorming for Solutions
  4. A family fun activity such as a game, cooking, or popcorn and a movie.
  5. Calendar for family fun event

The first week you can spend more time on the Agenda. Let your kids know this is where they can write problems. (Younger children can ask parents to write on the agenda for them.) Ask if anyone can think of any problems they would like help with. If they can’t think of anything you could say, “What about ____________ (whatever problem you have noticed during the day between or with the kids). You could then say, “I would like to add burping.” Let them know that the agenda will be put on the fridge and anyone can add anything they want during the week. You won’t try to solve any of the problems until after the kids learn about brainstorming. Let your kids know that next week, they’ll learn about compliments so they might want to be thinking of what they appreciate about everyone in the family so they’ll be ready.

Then put the agenda on the fridge and end the meeting.

During the week, when you notice the kids having a problem you might say, “That sounds like a good one to add to the agenda.” Don’t insist. Just notice if they do or not. If you see kids fighting you might say, “Would one of you like to put this on the agenda?” They may or they may not. You are just making a suggestion that increases awareness of the agenda. When you have a problem, such as kids not picking up their toys, you could say, “This is a problem. Would you like to put it on the agenda, or should I?” If they don’t, you can.

Week Two: Compliments

Bring the agenda to the family meeting and say something such as, “We have quite a few things on our agenda (even if you are the one who has put most of them on there). It will be interesting to see how we solve these problems after we learn about brainstorming. Tonight we are going to do compliments. Who knows what a compliment is?

If your kids don’t come up with any of the following you can teach the following:

  1. Thank you for something someone has done for you.
  2. “Atta boy,” or “atta girl” (acknowledgment of something someone has accomplished.)
  3. Appreciation for something you like about a family member.

During compliments you can go around the circle and allow everyone to give a thank you for _____, an atta boy/girl for ________, or an appreciation for ____. If they struggle with this, say, “We’ll practice again next week.” If everyone does well, say, “Next week we’ll learn about brainstorming.”

During the week, when you see something “good,” you can comment, “That would make a good compliment during our next family meeting.” Don’t write it down or tell them to remember. You are just creating awareness. Continue to make suggestions when you see something that could go on the agenda–and/or add things yourself.

Week Three: Brainstorming

Move on to brainstorming only when your kids are doing well (not perfect) putting things on the agenda and giving and receiving compliments.

Bring the agenda. Comment on how much is on it and that you can’t wait to talk about brainstorming. Then do compliments. If they are proficient, go on to teach about brainstorming.

Brainstorming is when we think of as many ideas as we can to solve a problem. They can be practical or wild and crazy. After we have had fun brainstorming (with no discussion), we will choose one solution that we all agree on and try it for a week.

Choose a problem from the agenda and practice brainstorming. Be sure to teach about the wild and crazy part by suggesting some ridiculous suggestions at first such as, “No talking for a full day. Everyone will just burp.”

If someone starts complaining about an idea, remind the kids, “During brainstorming any idea is okay. When we are finished brainstorming we can discuss some of the ideas before choosing one that works for everyone.”

You might want to introduce a timer and set it for two minutes and challenge the family to see how many ideas they can think of it two minutes. This may help them stick to brainstorming for ideas instead of getting off-track into discussions.

After brainstorming say, “Now let’s look at our list and cross out anything that isn’t practical, respectful, or helpful.” From what is left, choose one that everyone can agree to. If everyone can’t agree say, “Okay. We are doing great at learning this process. Let’s table this item and try again next week to see if we can find something we can all agree on.”

Family Fun Activity and Calendar for Family Fun Events

These two components can be added anytime after your family is doing well with the agenda and compliments. You may want to add one or both the same week that you add brainstorming. Or you may want to use the family fun activity as a brainstorming lesson—brainstorm for a list of things kids would like to do at the end of the family meeting.

The calendar for family fun events means taking the time to make sure things you would like to do as a family get put on the calendar.

As you read all of this I hope you understand that the process is even more important than an immediate result. You are teaching skills that can last a lifetime. You are being patient. You are being respectful and encouraging. Whenever something doesn’t do well, you may want to stop and say, We’ll try again next time.”


Shopping With Children

Isn’t it fun going grocery shopping with your children? If you’re like most other parents, you have answered an emphatic “NO!” to this question. Here are some suggestions on how to make shopping a more pleasant experience for all.

1. Be proactive and plan for success. Make sure that your children are fed, toiletted, rested or not ill before embarking on a shopping trip. Any one of these things not addressed can turn a shopping trip into a nightmare.

2. Have a ritual, something that you always do after shopping, like going for a hot chocolate. Don’t use this as a bribe, however. Instead tell your children, “When we are done shopping we will go for our hot chocolate.” The implication is there that says, “If we don’t finish, no hot chocolate.” as there are days when you will have to abandon shopping because it’s just not going to work. Then the hot chocolate gets skipped too. Yes, there may be tears and shouts of disappointments but stay calm. They will pass and then you can explain why the shopping trip had to end and how there could be no hot chocolate because you never finished shopping.

3. Go to the stores that have those mini shopping carts that the children can push around.

4. Give the children certain things that they need to find from your shopping list to keep them engaged.

5. Ask the children to bring an activity that they can do while sitting in the shopping cart.

6. Keep the trips short. It’s better for your sanity to make 3 short trips a week than 1 long trip.

7. Remember to let your child know how you appreciate that you were able to get your shopping done. Tell them specifically what they did that was helpful.



When you have difficulty thinking of some logical consequences for you child’s misbehaviour, it is often earlier to think in terms of privileges and responsibility. Privileges and responsibility go hand in hand; if your child wants a privilege then s/he has to take the responsibility that goes with that privilege. If s/he won’t take responsibility, then s/he loses the privilege for a period of time.

Because we are teaching our kids to take responsibility, they need many instances to practice. For this reason the amount of time that they lose the privilege for initially should be short and lengthened every time the privilege is abused. The whole process may go something like this. The parents might say, “You are allowed to use the computer for 1 hour every day. It is your responsibility to use your time wisely so that you stay within the 1 hour limit. I will tell you when it is 5 minutes to end time and then I’ll tell you when your time is up. If you choose  not to get off the computer, you will use your computer privilege for the next day.” Then the parents would have the child repeat this rule. If one day the child goes over time, the parent says to the child, “I see that you are choosing to lose your computer time for tomorrow.” and then the parent follows through with this the next day. If the behaviour reoccurs, then the child loses 2 days of computer etc. When the child sees that the parent will follow through in a fair, firm but kind manner, s/he will soon respect the responsibility that goes with the privilege. …And yes the child may tantrum but the parent calmly but firmly says, “I know your upset that you can’t use the computer today. You can try again tomorrow.”

Here are examples of privileges and responsibility:

Privilege Responsibility
Having toys Cleaning up after playing with them
Using the car Putting gas in the tank
Riding a bike Putting bike away after use
Going out with friends Being home on time
Using the computer Staying within the time limit for use
Watching TV Respecting limits
Having a cell phone Keeping within the terms of the plan or paying for it
Going out to a restaurant with the family Showing appropriate behaviour

Teens and Letting Go!

Letting go has to be one of the most difficult things to do as a parent.  As we watch our kids grow and become more independent our first reaction is to try and hold on tighter.  Unfortunately, this is the last thing that they want or need and only causes our kids to try to move even further away from us.  The reality is teens are ready for independence a lot sooner that we, the parents, are ready to let them go.

During the teen years our job as parents is to prepare our kids for the adult world – prepare them to be able to live lives independent of us.  We have to let them gain the experience they need for independent living.  They need to make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences of poor decisions, as long as it is not dangerous, life-threathening or immoral.

During the first 12 years, we have taught our children how to behave. We have given them moral guidelines to follow.  We have instilled values and shaped who they are.  We have supported them, taught them right from wrong, dried their tears and bandaged their hurts.  We have modelled how to treat others and how to take care of and speak up for themselves.  Now, in the following five years, we need to let them practice what they have learned yet remain a constant support.  We continue to encourage them, support them, listen to them and dry their tears while remaining non-judgemental.  We offer our opinion but don’t insist that this become their way of thinking.  We encourage open communication by listening without judging and by not lecturing.  It is a time when we trust that we have done our job as parents in the first 12 years and now we watch this person unfold and blossom before our eyes.

Rules and curfews are no longer ENFORCED but are negotiated.  Consequences are a part of life so we make sure that our teens experience the consequences of their actions: “You can drive the car as long as you put gas in it.”or “Dinner is served at 6:00 and if you are going to be late, call or else dinner will be put away.”

In a few short years, our teens may be away at university or working and living on their own.  They will have to know how to take care of themselves.  Our gift to them is to give them the opportunity to learn and practice these skills while still living in the caring, supportive environment of home.

Positive Time Out

Parents have been using time outs as a consequence for their kids’ behaviours for a while now.  The way that they’ve been used can sometimes come across as a disguised punishment.  We tell kids to go to time out to think about their behaviour and we try to make sure that time out is not pleasant either.  Kids can go to their room but they can’t read or play while they are there because, “It should not be fun!”

So let’s rewind!    

Let’s look at time out from a different perspective or as a positive time out.  A positive time out (PTO) is used as a cooling off period and is presented to out kids in a much different way.  It allows the child to learn to self-soothe and regulate his/her own emotions.  It allows for calming down before a new behaviour is possible.  Here’s the “recipe” for PTO.

– Talk to your child about how we all need cooling off periods when we our emotions and behaviour start to get out of control.  Tell your child what you do to cool off before you “lose it”.  Do you walk away and go sit in your room, or the bathroom and take 5 minutes to regain your composure? … Or is knitting your release?……Or…….

– Explain to your child that once emotions get too “BIG” we can’t carry them anymore and then we usually can’t think or act in a positive way any longer.  So a PTO will help us.

– Brainstorm with your child where they might like to go for their cooling off period.  It might be their bedroom, the cozy corner in the family room or a little alcove tucked under the stairs.  Ask them what they might like to have in this area that would help them cool off.  Books?  A favourite pillow or stuffy?  A comfy blanket?  Then help them to create this area for themselves.

So next time you see a temper tantrum starting to boil you calmly say to your child, “Would it be helpful for you to have a PTO now?”  If the PTO place is a place that they have created and have made cozy they are more that likely to want to go there. BUT remember not to use this as a punishment.

After a certain amount to time you and can go back into your child’s PTO area and ask, “Are you ready to talk about what happened and about what we can do next time?”  If you get a negative response or none just say, “I see you’re not ready to talk so come and find me when you are.”  Once everyone has calmed down, then some constructive problem solving can start to take place.  Children and adults do better when they feel better.

If your child refuses to go to his/her time out place then you say, “Well I need a time out.” and you go for a time out and return when you have calmed down.  (Of course, you are not leaving your child unattended at this time but you might go to your bedroom for a few minutes or walk around the house or go up and down the stairs a few times.) You’re modelling emotional regulation for your child.  Do not think that you are letting your child GET AWAY WITH IT!!!  You are NOT!  You are letting things calm down before addressing the issue.

Why you ask?  Well as Jane Nelsen jokingly puts it: “”When children push your buttons, you react from your reptilian brain, and reptiles eat their young.”  We all need to be in our adult brains, not our reptilian brains.  See the post on Anger to  learn about the cycle of anger.

NOTE: Young children under the age of about 2 1/2 do not understand the concept of time out and it should not be used with them.  You may want instead to ask, “Do you want to sit here with your blanket/teddy/pillow for a while?”

Get creative!!  The more kids put into their space, the more they’ll want to use it!