My kids so often come out with little gems that I think I should record but rarely do.  But here’s one to share that really lit me up with that reassuring sense of “yes! you’ve really got that one sussed!”.

We were all four of us sitting around to have one of our family meetings. To give a bit of context, holding family meetings is something that we’ve always done as a family and that the kids really enjoy, even when DD was as young as one, she enjoyed the feeling of us all sitting around giving each other our full undivided attention, reflecting back what’s been expressed and validating each person’s experience, feelings and needs.

Needs before wants.  

The format has generally been to invite each person to first share their needs (for the day or in relation to the issue being discussed), then their wants and then we all work out a plan that everyone is happy to agree on that’s going to meet as many of the wants and needs as possible.

The other day we just said let’s have a meeting without giving it a structure (which is also really normal for us) and each person was taking their turn to share. Then DD (then 11) said “oh hang on, have we moved on to our wants already, have all the needs been covered already?” then turning to her big brother to ask him if he has any more needs that he’d like to share.

Thinking about what a journey it’s been for me as an adult to develop clarity around the difference between wants and needs in myself and others, it’s such a good feeling that the kids have it so clear and so embodied, all part of their “normal”.

Premium members – have you watched Genevieve’s video as part of the Peaceful Parenting Step by Step eCourse explaining what Family Meetings can look like and how your family can benefit from them. 

Family meetings are especially useful at the start of a day or a weekend

As each person gains the opportunity to think about and express their hopes and wishes and needs. It’s so valuable to get clear from the outset of a day, a project, an outing. When the kids were young, my husband and I inevitably would have a few chores on our wish list, which the kids always tended to be more willing participants in when we ALSO gave attention to when their hopes and wishes were. 

People of all ages are naturally more engaged in working with others when they themselves have been heard and validated.  

It’s also important for children to have the chance to express disappointments about not being able to do something they wish they could. This process takes family members (old and young!) from unconsciously competing to each get their needs and wants met to instead consciously cooperating and being more tuned in to each other’s wants and needs.

At the start of a meeting, we usually open up the question; “what are the needs?”

Needs might be sports that the kids are involved with, sometimes I need to go to the farmer’s market to stock up and other times it’s a want because the stocks aren’t too low. My husband might throw in that we need to do gardening and we might get down to discussing which garden work really needs to happen this weekend and which jobs are more in the wants, as in I’d like to achieve it if it works out. Then there are the basic needs of having a shower, preparing, eating and cleaning up meals. I often bring forward that I need to get some housework done and I need help with it so that I can better relax and enjoy the fun family activities. We sometimes have a chat about if something really is a need or is more of a want, each person decides if their thing is a need or a want but others might help them with their thinking “are you sure it needs to be done today?” and open it up. We figure out who needs help in meeting their needs.

We’ve always talked about achieving needs before wants. 

It’s not a hard and fast rule as much as a good principle and guideline. We’ve never been a rules family in the traditional sense of the word, we work on agreements mostly, or if a rule is created it’s usually one that’s suggested and agreed upon “would it be a good idea to make it a rule that nobody in this family turns on a screen in the morning, myself included?” kind of thing.

The wants is a really nice part, it’s kind of like, “what’s on your wish list”.  

Typical wants are going to the beach, DS (16) and hubby are often keen on going for a surf if the surf’s up, going for a walk in the bush totally lights my fire but not so much the others, some friend time is often on the wish list for the kids, hubby and I might throw in that we’d love to catch up with friends. Maybe watching a movie together. Then we have a discussion to explore all the possibilities. Everyone seems to enjoy the challenge of working out a plan that meets as many needs as possible. Being patient and avoiding shutting down people’s ideas before they’ve been fully expressed regardless of how realistic they are or not is a real key to success and the kids are in turn equally patient in giving mum/ dad air space on the ideas that are less attractive to them because that’s just how it works. We might discuss several different plans before we settle on one that’s a good fit and it tends to kind of become obvious that we’re not going to fit in x if we’re going to do y that either needs to be done or most people are really keen on. If we decide on going to the beach for the boys and dd to surf, for instance, one of the kids will often joyfully exclaim that I can go for a walk on the beach or in the bush when they’re all surfing. It’s all good practice in strategizing, listening, compromising, trusting and problem-solving.

All suggestions are okay suggestions, keep the spirit of brainstorming open by not shutting anyone down.  

My daughter has been known to regularly throw in that she wants us all to go to rainbow’s end, us all knowing that it’s a hope or a wish, a theme park 3 hours away with roller coast rides and all that. So that kind of thing doesn’t tend to happen most weekends ha! But I think she still enjoys throwing it out there – you never know, it happens occasionally and is planned in advance but if it wasn’t for my daughter’s requests it might never actually manifest. I remember one time we did go when she was about 8 and she talked so much about how we all went there because she suggested it, it was obvious that it was a very empowering experience for her and of course everyone had a ball.

The new xBox.  

One particular meeting happened because we got an xbox with a kinect (movement sensor), which has been both big excitement and also a source of a lot of frustration. The kids have never got into these kind of games so this is pretty big. It was obvious to me that the kids needed to keep a log, decide on division of time and be really organised about it but I held my tongue on suggesting it because (a) I didn’t want to rob them of the opportunity to problem solve and (b) kids are always more highly motivated to follow agreements that they themselves have been involved in creating. My son expressed his frustrations about how unsatisfying it is to play with his sister nagging him about the time. My daughter did suggest the logbook and all agreed. I expressed my want for things to stay as in balance as possible, about it potentially eating into other needs and the challenge of maintaining the balance.

So, it’s all been a lot calmer and settled since the meeting with a bit more structure and more conscious awareness of each of our thoughts, feelings, wants and needs around it all. Playing the game is a want not a need (as decided by the kids) and they’re now clearer about avoiding the game playing compromising their needs like chatting together as a family, chores, homework, downtime, getting organized for the next day, making lunches.

Skills for life!   

This is a format that your children can take in to all sorts of situations in life where people need to take turns, brainstorm, problem solve, listen and reflect each other’s thoughts and collaborate.

Genevieve Simperingham is a Psychosynthesis Counsellor, a Parenting Instructor and coach, public speaker, human rights advocate, writer and the founder of The Peaceful Parent Institute.  Check out her articles, Peaceful Parenting eCourses, forums and one-year Peaceful Parenting Instructor Training through this website or join over 90,000 followers on her Facebook page The Way of the Peaceful Parent.


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