Improve Parenting with Family Meetings

Welcome to From Insults to Respect. 

From time to time, I like to provide posts that offer some suggestions derived from my parenting course, “How to Discipline Your Children and Have Them Still Like You.” criticismFor example, in one such post (see HERE), I explain how to teach children to deal effectively with criticism. In another (see HERE), I provide child discipline suggestions made by William James, one of the greatest thinkers America has ever produced.

Reacting to these posts, many parents and grandparents have asked for some additional advice about how to handle certain challenging situations. So today I provide a little parable that describes a family that uses weekly family meetings to deal with their discipline challenges, and then I highlight some of the main themes the parable is designed to illustrate.

The Anderson Family Parable

“I want!” cries three-year old Ivy as her mother, Hanna, wheels her in the half-filled grocery cart down the cereal aisle of their grocery store.

Looking at the box of Sugar Smacks that Ivy is pointing to, Hanna declares that the cereal has too much sugar and resumes walking.

Upon seeing her mother passing by the Sugar Smacks, Ivy again cries out even louder, “I want!” Her face is turning red while squirming to get out of the cart.

Hanna, positioning Ivy back into her cart seat, softly tries to explain that the cereal has too much sugar and so it is not a healthy choice for Ivy, but Ivy responds by exploding into a full scale tantrum. A woman a few feet away, scrunches up her face in distress. Hanna, noticing this, quickly heads for the service section of the store, and even though there are two people in line before her, she calls out to the person behind the counter, “Please watch my grocery cart until I can take care of my child.”

The person behind the counter nods as Hanna pulls Ivy from the cart and carries her to the grocery store’s exit. She then takes Ivy several yards from the entry of the store so Ivy’s screaming won’t be bothersome to the goings and comings at the store. Then Hanna listens sympathetically to Ivy who yells that she saw the kids on her TV show eating the cereal and they loved it. They didn’t get sick eating it so she wants it.

Hanna, in a caring tone of voice repeats what Ivy just said. She then says she understands that TV shows make certain foods look a lot better than they are so people will buy it. “I love you and I have to make sure you eat only the most healthy foods so you stay healthy.”

“I want it!!!” screams Ivy, and she continues to scream for another five minutes while Hanna provide’s Ivy a sympathetic ear. And then, slowly, Ivy begins to quiet down. When the tantrum has run its course, Hanna asks Ivy if she’s ready to go back into the store.

“No!” cries Ivy.

“OK,” says Hanna. “We’ll wait until you are ready.”

About a minute later, Ivy takes her mother’s hand and leads her back into the store. The rest of the shopping experience goes by without any further disruptions.

Two days later, it is time for the family meeting of Hanna, her husband, Aaron, and their two children, Ivy and Joel. Joel is a couple of years older than his little sister, and has recently started kindergarten. Their family meeting occurs during the evening meal.

“Well,” says Aaron, “another week has gone by, so it is time to have another family meeting. We have these meetings because we love each other and we want to celebrate things that are going well for the family and we also want to figure out ways to solve problems so things keep getting better and better.”

“I want to celebrate,” says Hanna, “what a great job Ivy did at the supermarket a couple of days ago. She wanted some cereal, and although she got upset at first, after she calmed down we went back in the store and we had a very good time finishing the shopping. Great job, Ivy!” And with this, Hanna patted Ivy on her shoulder. Ivy smiles. 

“Great job!” says Aaron, and he too pats Hanna on her shoulder. Then he looks over at Joel, and says, “Don’t you think Hanna did a great job?”

“I guess so,” says Joel, but not with the enthusiasm his parents would have liked.

“I like the way Joel and I played catch before dinner tonight,” says Aaron. “I was throwing these high flies to him, and he caught almost every one!” 

Joel beams as his dad is saying these words. 

“I want to play catch, too,” says Ivy. 

“OK,” says Aaron. “After supper I’ll get the bean bag and we’ll work on that.”

“Is there anything else that you liked that happened this week?” says Hanna to the whole family.

“I like that you took us for ice cream,” says Ivy.

“Me too,” says Joel.

“Are there any problems that we need to work on?” asks Aaron.

“Yeah, Dad,” Joel replies. Last night you yelled at me when it was time to go to bed. That’s not very respectful.”

“You don’t like to get yelled at,” Aaron replies.

“No,” says Joel. “You always say we should treat each other respectfully, and yelling is not respectful.”

“I see,” says Joel. “I don’t like it when someone yells at me either. When I yelled, I told you it was time for bed and you ignored me.”

“I didn’t ignore you. I told you I would get ready as soon as I finished my game.”

“OK. It felt like you ignored me, but you are right, you did say that. I want you to go to bed on time so you stay healthy and do your best at school.”

“That doesn’t mean you should yell at me.”

“What would be a better way for me to deal with this type of problem?”

“You should let me finish my game.”

“Well, some of your games go on and on, and you’ll end up going to bed too late. The computer game that you were playing doesn’t really have an end; it just keeps going.”

“At least let me get to the next board in that game. It won’t take long.”

Aaron thinks about this for a few seconds. Joel usually finishes a board in about five minutes. What I can do is give Joel a five-minute warning before it’s time to go to bed and see if that works out.

“OK, Joel. I’ll give you a five-minute warning before it’s time to head up to bed. Does that make sense?”

“Well, even then, I don’t think you should yell at me if I need a little more time.”

“What should I do instead if you are not heading up to bed after five minutes?”

“Just remind me again without yelling, Dad.”

“OK, this week we’ll give your plan a try and we’ll discuss how well it worked at the next family meeting.”

At the next meeting, Aaron mentioned that he thought Joel’s plan worked well, and patted him on the shoulder. Then he asked Joel if he thought it went well.

“You didn’t yell, but Mom did.”

“I yelled?” Hannah replied in a concerned, but soft voice. “When?”

“At the restaurant when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to order.”

“Oh, everyone was very hungry, Joel, and you were just sitting there. At some point you have to decide. We can’t just sit there all night. Besides, I didn’t yell. I was a little frustrated, and my voice did get a little louder, but there’s a difference between yelling and expressing a little frustration.”

“It still felt like you weren’t treating me respectfully, Mom!” 

“Well, Joel, I don’t like it either when people raise their voice at me even a little. But I think if it’s just a little louder, maybe we should let it slide. We sometimes are unhappy about what is happening and to express those feelings may be something we might want to accept by those we love without making a big deal of it. What do you think about this, Aaron?”

“I think we should try to be as respectful as we can, but showing some feelings when we are frustrated, maybe that’s something we should learn to accept. We are only human, and human’s have feelings.”

“How about this week we just watch for times we get frustrated, and how we act at such times, and next week we’ll discuss this topic further?” says Hanna.

Everyone agrees.


The above parable tries to indicate how family meetings can work to help solve discipline problems. These meetings tend to go much better if the parents have spent some time teaching their children how to maturely respond to and provide criticism.

In the parable, when Hanna brings up the supermarket problem, instead of framing it as Ivy being bad in the supermarket for having a temper tantrum, she instead framed it as a success. She focusses on Ivy calming down and how afterwards the rest of the shopping experience was pleasant. Then she and her husband patted Ivy on her shoulder to celebrate a success. This is an important parenting skill worth learning.

The parable also illustrates how parents can involve a child in coming up with a plan to solve a problem. I suggest that even if the parents think there may be some weakness of the plan, it is usually worth giving it a try for a week. Then, when the problems of the plan really occur, it can be discussed at the next meeting. Oftentimes, because the child is so intent on proving his or her plan is a good one, he or she makes it work well.

In the plan that Joel came up with to deal with his dad’s yelling, it worked well for getting him to bed on time. Nevertheless, Joel was still upset about his mom raising her voice at the restaurant because he couldn’t make up his mind what to order. Here, Hanna tries to make a distinction between yelling and expressing some frustration by talking a little louder. Although she recognizes that she doesn’t like it when others raise their voice to express their frustration at her, she expresses a concern that people do have feelings that they want to express among family members. How do you balance this with the desire to also be respectful to family members? Rather than to decide on this issue right then, the family decides to be mindful of how this occurs in the family over the course of the week and then to discuss it further at their next family meeting. This is one of the wonderful aspects of the family meetings. It is a growing experience that deals with problems not when folks are all riled up and angry, instead, during pleasant family time.

Family meetings help to build:

  • Listening skills
  • Brainstorming skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Mutual respect
  • An understanding of the value of cooling off before solving a problem
  • Concern for others
  • Cooperation
  • Respectful behavior patterns

Well, there you have it, some ideas about how to use family meetings to deal with the parenting problems that typically occur. I hope you find them helpful.

For those of you who have some experience using family meetings, please let us know how they have been going. Thanks for stopping by, and may all of your discipline problems be handled with love and respect.


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on.  This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.




About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. I think family meetings are a great idea for building respect and conflict resolution skills for families. One of my best friends growing up’s family would do regular family meetings and one day I was over at their house when a meeting was called. I was pretty amazed by the way the family all took on a sense of respectful listening and just a general air of openness. I think that over the years of conducting these meetings, the family members got used to a sort of sacred space where no matter how they’d communicate or interact otherwise, when a meeting was called, everyone would just drop into a respectful, open, serious manner for resolving challenges the family members were experiencing. It was something that really stuck with me, and I think it would be a wonderful tool for many families. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Jack Star, for sharing with us your experience with family meetings. It is crucial for people to hear these stories so they can see how such meetings can be so very helpful.

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