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Tools for Raising Responsible Children
By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.
T - Tracking Pathfinder Structures for Children
12.0 Structures for Family Meetings

12.1. Goals of family meetings

Pathfinders conduct family meetings to clarify communication and to develop and reinforce the guidelines, procedures, policies and structures of the family. The meetings are a scheduled opportunity to highlight the positive development of the family members. It is an opportunity for them to have experience in leadership and team work. The meetings are a team meeting in which the members have freedom to express their feelings openly on how well the team is functioning. The issues facing the family are problem solved with solutions sought in which all members are winners. The meetings then are an opportunity for the children to learn how to compromise to come to solutions over problems where the sides are polarized. Pathfinders use these meetings to enhance the self-esteem of the children. They are used to help the children to become personally responsible for their own actions. Family schedules, chores, activities, entertainment and other structures are planned in these meetings. In these meetings the children are encouraged to develop their own goals, objectives and procedures to achieve desired outcomes in their lives. Likewise they are encouraged to focus on their positives in these meetings where their strengths, achievements, and successes are given attention and reinforcement by the other family members. Family meetings are not gripe sessions where the family members can nag and rag on one another. They are instead a process for creating a home life where family members live in unconditional acceptance and love of one another. These meetings are conducted in families as long as they maintain this positive reinforcement and problem solving focus. Pathfinders work hard to assist the children have a positive experience in these meetings and resist the urge to use them for preaching, lecturing and teaching. They involve the children in all aspects of the meetings from setting the agenda, getting the room ready for the meeting, taking minutes, leading the discussions, brainstorming solutions to problems, presenting new issues for the family to consider, and reinforcing and complimenting other family members where appropriate.

Natural consequences:
  • If the family meetings degenerate into nagging and gripe sessions, no one will want to continue holding them.
  • If the family meetings lose focus and deteriorate into negative complaints and blaming sessions, then the self-esteem of the family members will be negatively impacted.
Logical consequences:
  • If you choose to use these meetings as gripe and moan sessions, then you can skip the next one until you are ready to return as a productive family problem solver.
  • If you have nothing to add to or bring up in the agenda for our meetings, then there is a good chance that things and issues important to you will never get discussed or looked at or we will assume that you do not have anything to say about the family process which you want addressed.

12.2. Scheduling family meetings

Pathfinders schedule family meetings on a weekly basis when the family is in great need for structuring itself when a major transition in the family is occurring. These weekly meetings might go on from three months to a year or more until a major transition in the family has been completed. These transition include: arrival of new family members into the home, entry of children into school, changes in schools, graduation from levels from elementary to middle to high school to college, moves to new homes and neighborhoods, increased stress in home due to problems or illness facing a specific family member, death of a family member or someone close to the family, changes in the family's financial status, separation and divorce of parents, marriage of one or other natural parent to a new step-parent, blending of step-children in the same house, initiation of dating and increase peer group socializing, etc. Once the family is stabilized after a transition, the family meetings can become less frequent down to a minimum of one a month. Since families face a number of transitions in their lives, it seems like family meetings become an expected scheduled structure in the home. Family meetings should last no more than one hour in length. If the meeting runs over and all members are with it then the meeting can continue. Pathfinders are sensitive to the attention spans of their children and limit meeting length to insure full participation of all family members. Children who are five years or older are expected to attend the full meeting. Those children under age of five are only involved in the activity or fun portions of the meetings. Children 2 years or younger are exempt from meetings. Children 7 years or older are given turns along with the parents to be the meeting leaders on a rotating schedule. Pathfinders schedule meetings at times when all family members are available and make sure that this time is respected by all family members with nothing else scheduled to take away from them including outside jobs, sports games, tournaments, scheduled outside activities and other recreational or leisure event. Pathfinders role model for their children the importance of family meetings by being in attendance at as many as possible and requesting a re-scheduling of meetings where a schedule conflict exists.

Natural consequences:
  • If there is stress in the family due to some major transition, then there is a need for the family to have meetings to set new guidelines to reorganize itself after the transition is completed.
  • If family meetings are scheduled when no one in the family has a scheduled event, then there is a greater possibility that these meetings will be held regularly without being cancelled due to people not being able to come.
Logical consequences:
  • If you missed a family meeting and you had nothing scheduled to interfere, then we will assume that you did not care what we decided at that meeting, then we will expect that you accept what was agreed to as a guideline to follow.
  • If you consistently miss family meetings due to excuses that something has come up to pull you away, then we will assume that you do not care that your input is missing when we decide important guidelines for the family. We will expect you to follow the new guidelines decided at the meetings which you missed

12.3. Family meetings formats

Pathfinders conduct family meetings just like clubs, civic clubs and voluntary associations conduct their membership meetings. The following is a sample family meeting format.

1. Opening meditation or prayer

2. Business Portion of Meeting

  • Reading of the minutes from last meeting
  • Reviewing old business left over from last meeting
  • Introduction of new business for discussion
  • Assignment of tasks to complete, research or resolve new business issue raised with reports due at next meeting for further action of the family members
  • Scheduling next family meeting
3. Activity Portion of Meeting

The meeting leader, with assistance of the parents, has prepared an activity to help the family relate in better ways.

Activities could include:

  • Reading a story and discussing it
  • Playing a family discussion game like the Ungame
  • Reading letters and notes of thanks to family members for kindnesses shown in past week
  • Role playing ways to handle issues and problems outside or inside the home
  • Watching a video with a relevant family theme and discussing it when completed
  • Affirmation writing and sharing
  • Making family collages
4. Closing meditation or prayer

Pathfinders make sure that the family meetings are conducted with the two pronged format of business and a self-esteem enhancing activity. This insures that the children recognize that the family meeting is more than just a way for the chores and jobs around the house to be discussed and assigned. The activity for the meeting is presented by the scheduled meeting leader who works with the parents prior to the meeting to insure that an appropriate activity is readied.

Natural consequences:
  • If family meetings are just business oriented, then there is a good possibility that the self-esteem of the family members will not be enhanced.
  • If family meetings are just self-esteem enhancement activity oriented, then there is a good possibility that the business of the family will be ignored. The family members might feel good about themselves, but the family might be disorganized and disruptive to live in.
Logical consequences:
  • If you skip out on the business portion of our meetings, then we will assume you had no input to offer even though we might decide things which might affect you.
  • If you skip the self-esteem enhancing activities portion of our meeting, then you will not be able to enjoy the feelings of closeness which we share at that time. We might also become distant and alienated as a result.

12.4. Family meeting topics

Pathfinders utilize the Tracking Structures Chapter of Pathfinder Parening to identify issues of family structuring to discuss if the family members have not identified topics for the next meetings. Family transitions provide ample food for the agenda builder's diet. Pathfinders do not avoid tough topics for family meeting discussion and problem solving. No topics are avoided. Pathfinders make it clear that they are the leaders of the family and the last word will rest with them, especially if an item is non-negotiable. This does not mean, however, that just because the final resolution rests in the parents' domain, that Pathfinders will not discuss the issue fully with their children.

Natural consequences:
  • If an item open for discussion is a non-negotiable item, then the final word will be that of the parents, no matter how varied the opinions in the family.
  • If family members do not bring topics to the meetings, then the parents will.
Logical consequences:
  • If you do not bring topics to our meetings to discuss, then we will assume that there is nothing of importance you want us to look at which affects you in the family.
  • If you have a problem bringing up topics because they always seem to be non-negotiable, then you need to re-examine your point of view as to what role your parents have in your family.

12.5. Family policy manuel and meeting minutes

Pathfinders utilize a family policy manual to capture in writing, in a permanent notebook, the policies, procedures, structures, rules, and guidelines of the family finalized in and outside of the family meetings. This policy manual is separate from the family meetings minutes, which are kept in a separate notebook. Pathfinders save all of the notebooks, with the family policy manual and family meetings minutes as reference texts, to return to when new transition points are reached in the family and to refresh memories on what has been previously decided and agreed upon by the family members.

Natural consequences:
  • If you do not record what is decided in family meetings, there may be eventual disagreement between the family members later on as to what was decided.
  • If you do not record all policies, rules, guidelines, procedures, and structures of the family in a single location, then there is a good possibility that there will be an eventual disagreement among the family members as to what had been decided in the past
Logical consequences:
  • If you remember it that way, then please find it in the minutes of our meeting, because I read right here that we agreed to something completely different than how you remember it.
  • If you do not agree that this is our rule, then find in our family journal the rule as you remember it. If you don't find it, then you will have to abide with what is in our journal.