A practical guide that works
If you haven’t already done so, please take a look at part I to learn about the 12 benefits of having family meetings. If you have, then bravo and let’s move on to the how!
How do we start?
Step 1: Keep it Simple
In your first handful of meetings keep a super simple agenda as below:
- Start with a short du’a to begin with blessings. Any short Surah or salawat.
- Acknowledge each other with compliments or gratitude
- Planning time to discuss and schedule important dates and family fun
Meet weekly. Fridays are a great day! If not, try the weekend. Also, build trust by giving everyone time for input. Please hold off on sharing gripes until a healthy and happy routine is set. A week or two should do the trick. After you have set the routine then add all the other steps below! Read on.
Step 2: Be Prepared
Make sure you have the following tools and material in place:
- Use a dedicated notebook to keep on-going notes during the meetings. You can either have the same person record every week or alternate. It is a great job for older kids!
- Use a whiteboard for the fridge or get some magnets to post a paper agenda in a common space in the home. Invite everyone (including kids) to add to the agenda as issues arise during the week. TIP: Instead of constantly negotiating with your child about something he/she asks for just say “Sweetheart, write your concern or idea on the family meeting agenda on the fridge so we can make sure to discuss it. I see that it is important to you that we figure this out.” Boom. He/she feels heard, and now you have a set time and place to find solutions.
- Designate a talking stick. It can be any object at all that might be significant to your family. A special rock from the beach, a stuffed animal, or a literal stick. Kids usually do a great job at finding the perfect object! This object is passed around and determines whose turn it is to speak. This is especially important for little ones learning practicing taking turns speaking and learning how to be active listeners.
- This one is not necessary, but you can use a timer, bell, or chime to call the meeting to order or set time limits. If you need it great, otherwise remember to keep it simple.
Step 3: Build Connection and Affection
- Every single meeting should start with complements/gratitude as the first item (after opening prayer).
- The meeting facilitator will begin by asking “who would like the blessing of starting by giving a compliment or gratitude first?”
- That person goes, and everyone else has a turn too. Don’t forget to pass the talking stick/object!
- At first, this step may seem awkward or need some practice, but be patient. We are building the practice of being thankful to Allah. It is worth the effort.
Here are some examples:
“I appreciate how Baba always makes us laugh, mashAllah”
“Thank you, _______ for helping me carry the boxes in from the car. That was considerate and made my day easier!”
“I am thankful to Allah for having a Mama that cooks breakfast for us every day!”
“I loved hearing you read Qur’an today, mA!”
Step 4: Agenda Items Brainstorming
- Decide who facilitates and takes notes. (nonchalantly encourage children to, but don’t push.)
- Bring the agenda. You will probably need to explain that you will be Brainstorming solutions. Explain to your children that brainstorming is when we think of many ideas and ways we can solve a problem. The ideas all come out first, without discussion, then we will choose one solution that we agree on and try it for a week.
- Choose a problem from the agenda and practice brainstorming. At first, you will likely get some silly suggestions, but soon enough children will understand and make more practical and realistic solutions. Remember to set a good example and be a good, patient teacher at this time.
- 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 in 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.”
- Great! Now, move on to another agenda item and repeat. You may not get through the whole list, just do as many as you can depending on how much time or appetite there is. Use your best judgment and wisdom here.
Here’s an example agenda item scenario ‘Shoes in front of the Door’:
Dad: “I’m concerned because when I walk in the front door there are 10 pairs of shoes that I trip over when I get home.”
Brainstormed solutions: “Everyone brings their shoes upstairs to their room.” “Pile the shoes under the bench.” “Leave a large tub on the porch and take shoes off before coming in.” “Place a large tub near the door but out of the way so that everyone can throw all of the shoes in the garbage, we don’t need those shoes anyway.”
Decide on one idea everyone is willing to try. Check for agreement like this: “Ok, it sounds like we are willing to try X as a step in the right direction. Is everyone game to give this a try? We’ll check in next week to see how this plan is going.”
Notetaker records this agreement so the family can check back to see how it’s going at the next meeting.
During the week notice how the trial solution is working. (Hint: remember we’re looking for progress, not perfection.)
At the next meeting the facilitator checks in:
“I see we talked about Dad’s shoe issue last week, how’s it going for you Dad? How’s it going for everyone?”
Step 5: Wrap it up!
- Take this time to look at the calendar plan for any important dates such as trips, birthdays, Eids, projects, etc.
- I highly recommend ending each meeting with a fun family activity. It can be anything that promotes family togetherness such as doing a puzzle, playing a sport, going on a hike, reciting a du’a together, baking together. It is up to you! Have fun with it and generate a list with the whole family involved.
There will ultimately be plenty of fails and meetings that have a lot of negative emotion in them- that is ok. The point is to work together on issues and resolve them. And in the end, the process gets better the more you practice, so don’t give up!
Some problems get solved simply when we feel heard. When a child or parent expresses a problem at a family meeting, the simple act of bringing it up and feeling heard up goes a long way toward resolving the issue. Sharing feelings and having others listen is startlingly powerful!
InshAllah, hoping this tool helps increase the peace, faith, and love in your household! If you found this information to be helpful or encouraging let me know!