How to Hold a Successful Family Meeting in the Age of COVID-19
Families must join together to address challenges to their well-being brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing, disruption to routines, economic insecurity, school uncertainty, changes in routines, and stress from home confinement are some issues that leave families struggling. Getting household members to have a family meeting is a great way to ensure that concerns are being addressed and managed. Here are 7 tips for holding a successful family meeting in the age of Covid-19.
1) Establish the Purpose of the Meeting
The higher purpose of a family meeting should include cultivating open and honest communication. It should also encourage cooperation and problem-solving together. But to aid in its success, take time to identify and clarify the issue(s) you want to discuss and goals you hope to achieve before the meeting takes place. And keep in mind, each issue may impact family members differently.
2) Create a Safe Space and Respectful Boundaries
Young people draw a sense of safety from their parents and the adults around them. To encourage openness and comfort among family members during a family meeting, establish a safe space where all feel able to speak freely. That means considering everyone’s emotions. More than a third of families questioned in a survey of more than 4,600 people reported feeling “very or extremely” anxious about family stress resulting from Covid-19 related confinement. As an adult, if you’re feeling emotional or anxious, look to first work through your own concerns and get to a calm place. By doing so, you’ll be able to help instill a sense of peace in others.
Watch for tone and body language. Provide guidelines for the meeting that establish respectful boundaries. Those might include listening to all ideas, no interrupting, and encouraging positive solutions as opposed to putting down others’ suggestions. If possible, choose a shared space to meet that is considered neutral territory, like a living room or kitchen instead of someone’s bedroom.
3) Identify the Meeting “Leader”
It’s useful to have someone lead the meeting to help ensure the conversation stays on track. While many meetings may be led by Mom, Dad, or another caring adult in the household, consider rotating leaders. Look for opportunities for your tween or teen to take a turn in the role. Allowing your young person to lead is empowering and may help them feel more secure about discussing issues important to them. Depending on the agenda, the leader could even take notes and help identify actions to take after the meeting to enable changes and reach goals.
4) Create an Agenda
While it might seem a bit formal, making a list of things to talk about — an agenda — helps meetings stay on track, especially when dealing with multiple topics. Get input from everyone in the household as you create your list. Even if you want to keep the meeting to a single topic, your tweens and teens will appreciate their inclusion in the suggestion-making. And you may discover other issues to tackle for your next meeting.
5) Acknowledge Feelings, Questions, and Concerns
Listen and pay close attention to different family members as they take turns expressing what’s on their mind. In a world full of upheaval, tweens and teens may be feeling overwhelmed, unsure, and scared. Young people tune into adult’s emotions, and not knowing why a parent is acting or reacting differently than usual may leave them feeling threatened or anxious. If you are experiencing a tough situation, acknowledge it. Ensure your kids understand why or how it’s making things more complicated, or increasing tension in those around them. Model how you share your own feelings regularly to keep stress from building up inside. Remind your children you’re there for them to answer their questions. During difficult discussions, express your love openly.
6) Be Clear and Honest in Your Answers
Adolescents typically sense when their parents aren’t forthcoming. They need honesty –- especially when dealing with big lifestyle changes, as so many are experiencing during this pandemic. When information is missing, they may try to make sense of the situation on their own. Giving them a clear and accurate explanation of what’s happening in your home and community will reduce unnecessary feelings of fear or guilt. Provide your young people with honest answers and clear hopes and expectations. Ask for suggestions or work together to develop plans they can make and actions they can take.
7) Follow-Up and Act
Post-meeting, follow-up on any “actionable” items discussed. If you notice improvements, praise your tween or teen. If they’ve been trying to make changes but haven’t yet been entirely successful, let them know you appreciate their efforts. Partner with them to come up with strategies to best support their development. If issues of safety were discussed, work together to develop a step-by-step teen discipline contract to keep them protected while also helping to build character and values.
Communicate and Connect Through Family Meetings
It’s important to know that adults’ preoccupation with the pandemic could interfere with their ability to recognize or respond to young people’s fears. Family meetings can prove useful in getting ahead of hard issues. So, instead of waiting until things hit a breaking point, consider scheduling regular meetings. Ask for participation and meeting suggestions from all members of the family. Whenever possible, balance the conversation by including something positive or worth celebrating! In these times of uncertainty, let the family meeting become a source of healthy communication, connection, and comfort. Allow it to be a reminder that our homes must be our havens.