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Bruce Feiler, author of ‘The Secrets of Happy Families’ Gives Tips on Having a Family Meeting

Friday, March 15th, 2013

The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler keeps popping up on Amazon’s bestseller lists, and it’s a really great book for tips and tricks that can immediately uplift your family’s function and mood. In his latest release, popular writer Feiler (Walking the Bible) looks in unconventional places for advice on domestic bliss. He adapts nuggets of wisdom from green berets, coaches, software engineers, business people and branding experts for everyday in-home use.

My favorite bit comes from a business program called agile development. You don’t need to know the fancy term. What it means is to have a good old-fashioned (maybe new-fashioned) family meeting once a week. We’re holding ours on Sundays before dinner, and this is genius. If the kids are crying too much at mealtimes, I don’t have to address it on the spot. We’ll discuss the issue as a group during the scheduled time. Every issue–good and bad–can be hashed out then when everyone is feeling warm, fuzzy and cooperative.

Feiler believes family meetings are great for parents with kids of all ages. But having them is trickier for those of us with really young ones. Feiler sent me a how-to guide that’s specifically geared to Parents readers:

You can start when they’re young, though it will be change as they get older.  Three tips:

Bruce Feiler’s Tips for Having a Family Meeting with Young Kids

1. Keep it short. No more than 20 minutes, maybe shorter with little kids.

2. Start with a short welcome game. We have someone lead with the sound Ma, Ma, Ma and others follow. Then we stop and say, “Welcome to the family meeting.” We end with the same game,  and then “Thank you for the family meeting.”

3. Ask the kids important questions–and listen to their answers. Examples are: “What worked well in our family this week? What didn’t go well?  What will we work on this week?” Have everyone give answers, then vote on two ideas to work on. Let the kids recommend the rewards and punishments.

I needed my 7-year-old twins to cooperate more with their daily to-dos such as piano lessons, walking the dog and doing their homework. I asked them for suggestions. They came up with a penny reward jar. Every time they go above and beyond their duties–with a good attitude–they earn one penny. Once they reach 20 pennies, they get to pick out a $20 toy.

Oh my. We follow the above rules perfectly starting with a silly “Welcome to Our Family Meeting” song that I made up on the spot. What a difference this family idea meeting has made. We’ve had much more peaceful evenings for seven straight days. Thank you, Bruce!

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