A New Year’s Resolution: Reduce Stress with Family Meetings

As the dust begins to settle from first few days of school, we can now turn to looking ahead and deciding on routines for the school year. After living many years in Middle School, I’ve learned to never let a motivational opportunity pass us by, and so this weekend I think it is fitting to set some new year’s resolutions. As you think about what you want to do differently this school year, I will share my number one resolution: schedule a recurring family meeting.

The idea is a simple one. Members of the family make a list of things they want to do and what actions they can take to accomplish them. They think as individuals and as a family. Then they agree to meet on a regular interval, perhaps once a week or every other week, to review how they did since the last meeting.

At the meetings, there are only three questions to answer:

  • What did we do since our last meeting that really worked?
  • What did we do that did not work so well?
  • What can we agree to work on in the next week?

Keeping to this simple structure, in my experience, often leads to dramatic results. The conversations and negotiations that can become so vexing in middle school – getting out the door on time in the morning, whether homework is organized and completed or not, where the phones are during the night – are more straight-forward and calmer during the family meeting rather than in the heat of the moment. And when these questions, such as when and where homework happens, naturally come up in the meeting the answers are in the context of what the family has already agreed they want to accomplish, not our personal indignation over what the other person has done or not done.

One student, whose family was six weeks into regular meetings, explained the benefits this way: “My parents don’t lecture nearly as much. And, if I am being honest, I listen a lot more.”

There are several ways to start family meetings. My favorite description of how to do it, and where the ideas come from (agile programming!), is this segment from the TED Talk Radio Hour. You can visit the web page here or watch it below. The transcript is also available. The speaker, Bruce Feiler, offers practical-minded organizational thinking. He is not a psychologist or educator, and is the author of several parenting books and a series called Walking the Bible. I found his explanation and approach an appealing and helpful one for this simple but potentially challenging idea.

Making resolutions is a game of motivation, so it’s worth picking something big to inspire you. This weekend is the perfect time to commit to trying something new that will take some energy and persistence to follow through on. Continuing my family’s meetings is on my resolution list this year, and I recommend trying it yourself as well.