Related: Importance of Family Meetings Podcast

In the workplace, it’s common for co-workers to meet regularly to resolve issues and organize projects. Meetings are a time to figure things out and get on the same page. Can meetings do the same for families?

As part of a recent Punahou Team Up podcast, veteran educator Linda Inlay spoke to Molly Takagi – the School’s K – 8 social, emotional and ethical learning coordinator – about the importance of family meetings and how they can improve family relationships and children’s well-being.

Inlay began her career as a teacher at Our Lady of Sorrows School in Wahiawa, where she learned an educational approach to instill in children the four “Rs” – responsibility, respect, resourcefulness and responsiveness. Over the course of her 41-year career in Hawai‘i and California, she applied what she refers to as “Awakening Wisdom” principles to nurture students’ social and emotional needs.

Now retired, the former middle school principal has continued her advocacy for children’s well-being. One practice she encourages is for parents to set up regular family meetings, where everything from household chores to family trips to deeper issues can be discussed.

The meetings encourage children’s voices, opinions and decisions, which empower them, Inlay said. “The point of family meetings is that kids feel heard and understood.”

Although parents may think they’re already communicating with their children, they may not be offering quality listening, which is why setting up meetings are helpful, Inlay said. “There’s nothing wrong with parents listening and washing dishes – that’s one kind of listening. But if you’re going to listen really truly deeply to the concerns that children have, then you can’t be looking at your phone, doing dishes, doing the laundry. It has to be focused, intentional listening, where the child feels like, ‘I matter.’”

The meetings don’t have to be long; it’s the quality of the listening that matters more, she adds. “Children don’t often communicate truly what’s going on with them through their words. It’s the intonation, the facial features, the body language. It’s important to have this time.”

When organizing family meetings, Inlay suggests setting up a date, time and place that works for everyone. The first meeting can be short – about 30 minutes – with a goal of establishing an agreement about how subsequent meetings would unfold; what topics would be covered; and who will lead each meeting. There should always be an agenda, with specific subjects to discuss. And most importantly, kids should understand why they’re being asked to participate and why it will be beneficial to them.

Once meetings are set, kids and parents should be able to add topics the agenda, which can be placed on the refrigerator door. One important term of the agreement should be that all electronic devices are put away. Another would be that one person speaks at a time. Also, conflicts between parents should not be discussed in front of children, and parents should convey a sense of calm
during the meetings.

When families meet regularly, children develop a sense of autonomy that is critical for their mental health, Inlay said. “It helps them with their own search for identity that grounds them in who they are.”

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