You can talk about whatever you’d like during these sessions, but here are some suggestions that will serve a number of productive purposes:
1) Family Values
Try coming up with a family mission statement or set of bylaws. This is usually a good project for the first few meetings. Have a discussion about things such as:
What principles do we want our family to be based upon? (Love, acceptance, affection, etc.)
What should we strive for that will distinguish us from other families? (We still care about each other oven when we fight; we support each other and help one another out; we’re more devoted to each other; and so on.)
What’s most important in the way we treat one another? (Showing respect for each other; always listening to what others have to say, even if we don’t agree; Treating each other with love and kindness; no hurting people on purpose, etc.)
Start the discussion by asking these questions, and provide suggestions only if kids are struggling to come up with ideas on their own.
Simply defining these things together can go a long way toward encouraging prosocial behavior. Because you involve children in the process of defining these principles and recognizing their importance, you create an internal motivation for them to do the right thing. Once they are established, merely reminding children of a particular principle can alter their attitude and bring about better behavior without all the yelling, scolding, or pleading that parents often rely on. Many families will print and frame this list of family values and hang it somewhere in the home at eye level.
2) What’s working, what isn’t?
Start off by having each member of the family give an example of one or two things they think went well for the week, along with something they didn’t like or an area which could be improved upon. Once everyone has given their list, have a discussion about it. We would suggest conducting this activity at every meeting.
3) General maintenance issues
Family meetings also provide the perfect opportunity to discuss everyday maintenance issues, such as . . .
Issues related to chores or helping around the house: Is everyone content in their responsibilities? Would you like to trade jobs? Is it being done correctly?
You might talk about putting things away, cleaning up after yourself, and so on. For example, rather than simply yelling at children for not turning out the lights, you can show kids a copy of the utility bill and explain why you’re worried about rising costs and how this affects the family budget. Make it a contest to see how much you can lower it.
Planning family meals. (What would you like to see more of?)
Discussions about school: Did something interesting happen? Is homework getting done on time? Is there a subject you find difficult or one you especially like?
Personal problems or dilemmas – but ONLY if the child or the person with the problem brings it up. This invites children to come to you for advice when needed. We would also recommend that parents bring up appropriate problems of their own to discuss. When you give your kids a chance to weigh in on something in your life (an irritating coworker, a man who was rude to you at the convenience store) it allows them to see a more human side of you and makes it more likely that they’ll come to you to discuss their own problems. It makes talking about your struggles and seeking advice something normal, even a sign of maturity. These everyday hassles also provide an opportunity to teach your children about social and emotional intelligence.
Did a particular family member do something worth recognition? If so, acknowledge it in front of everyone else. This needn’t be reserved just for academic awards or something big – little things such as recognizing a child for doing such a great job helping her sister is just as good.
This is a particularly useful tool for behavior management, since it provides a venue in which kids can be praised for positive behavior, whether that involves good grades or doing something to help a sibling. This in turn will promote better behavior throughout the week. Start by taking note of something positive each child did during the week, then invite kids to give their own nominations.
5) Family decisions and changes
Are you thinking about moving? Switching jobs? Buying a new car? Discuss some of these issues whenever they come up. While some of these decisions may not be a matter that’s up for discussion, (and you should be sure kids are explicitly aware of this), it helps to at least talk things out and let everyone express their feelings on the matter. This can give rise to discussions about how you might make this transition easier or what you can do to alleviate the burden it might cause.
6) Fun and recreation
What movie would everyone like to see? What should you do on your next vacation? If you’re planning a trip, can you put children in charge of certain aspects of it, such as researching places they might like to see along the way? Discuss everyone’s preference when it comes to different aspects of fun and recreation.
Some families might take turns giving each member a special day on the weekend to plan as they wish, rotating every week (or every other week), so that each person feels they get opportunities to do some of the things they like. For example, if Timmy’s day is this Saturday, he might choose a family trip to Chuck E’ Cheese. For mom’s day, it might be a quiet picnic at the lake.