Stress Dismissed: Why Family Meetings Work

Parenting expert Annie Fox shares insight on how to break old habits and kick off the school year on the right foot.
Parenting expert Annie Fox offers tips for families on how to have a successful and stress-free school year. (Photo: Image Source)
Sep 21, 2012

Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.

Back at the end of May, sweet summer beckoned with infinite possibilities. I hope some of the good ones became realities for you and your family. Either way, summer has come to an end. Up next…a new school year.

Now and always, you are your child’s most influential teacher. This means you have a great opportunity to lead and learn moving into the next nine months. But before getting ahead of yourself, how about calling a family meeting to debrief from last school year? Let’s face it, not everything that you and your kids did between last September and June is worth repeating. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that a lot of what went down is definitely worth trying to avoid this time around.

So gather the troops for an open conversation centered on what worked well during last year and what didn’t. This may take 30 minutes (give or take), so everyone ought to be comfortable. Sitting around a table is good for that. It also encourages eye contact, always a plus when talking to someone. Appointing a “secretary” with a pen and paper to record ideas/agreements is very helpful. Oh, and snacks are always appreciated.

More: The Key to ‘How Children Succeed’: Hint...It’s Not Standardized Tests

One more suggestion—during family meetings, unplug from all phones, etc. I realize many of us, and our connection-addicted kids, feel uncomfortable without our phones, but unplug anyway. A digital-free family meeting sends a message: This discussion is important to our family and we want everyone to have a chance to speak and to be listened to with respect. That means no interruptions.

With ground rules established and the clear intention to improve family relationships vs. playing a blame game, let the conversation begin.

School-related causes of family stress include:

  • Getting out the door in the morning (including waking up on time, bathroom, getting breakfast, preparing lunch, getting schoolwork into backpacks, etc.)
  • Afterschool activity schedule
  • Afterschool childcare arrangements
  • Afterschool pickup schedule
  • Dinner
  • Homework
  • Bedtime

As you and your kids focus on each of these areas, ask “The way we did things last year, how did that work for you…son/daughter?” Here’s how it was for me.” Be honest with each other. If, for example, mornings were tense because Brother could not get himself up and out to the car on time, then it would be foolish (OK, insane) to go through another school year like that. Something has to change. Talk about how it felt to wait for him, stressing, then to drive like a crazy person because you were (once again) late. Talk respectfully (no blaming or shaming). Then work together to create some solutions so the family doesn’t allow a replay of that unacceptable behavior.

The same goes with unacceptable parent behavior. If, for example, Dad agreed to pick up Daughter after sports practice at 5 p.m., but 90 percent of the time he didn’t arrive until after 5:20 p.m., (and she was mad about waiting) then something needs to change. (Are you listening, Dad?)

That’s the way to debrief. But don’t stop with the negative stuff! There definitely were things that you and the kids did very well last school year. Take time at this meeting of the minds and hearts to acknowledge the successes you had. Those are the things your family wants to—and needs to—repeat.

Okay, life learners. Class dismissed. See you next week!

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