Positive family dynamics keep a family close and all members in a trusting relationship. Family meetings are one way parents can use for teaching, discussion, self esteem building and life skill practice. They are particularly important for families with special needs children who need repetition and reinforcement for skill development. Here are some tips for positive family meetings by Parent Coaching for Autism which are applicable for all families.
1. Plan around a special meal. Identify a meal that children look forward to create an informal meeting around it. When gathering around pizza or popcorn and then a movie, it makes a family meeting more enticing to all.
2. Make it sensory-friendly. Pay attention to any sensory issues in the environment. Consider space, lighting, noise and other things that might cause a child to become over-stimulated and therefore distracted.
3. Develop a family agenda. Give every family member input into the meeting. When children can suggest topics to be discussed it gives them a sense of ownership and increases participation.
4. Establish a routine ceremony. Consider beginning or ending the meeting by highlighting something positive about each member. This encourages the giving and receiving of compliments. Using a song, a pledge, a chant or a poem are other possibilities for opening and closing rituals.
5. Set goals. Determine individual and family goals – both short and long term. Once set, review the progress regularly and mention what everyone is doing to help make it happen.
6. Clarify Expectations. Be specific when discussing issues at family meeting. This is important for children with autism who tend to be literal and concrete thinkers. If talking about chores, “Put the dishes in the dishwasher,” is more precise than, “Clean the kitchen.”
7. Put it on a Calendar. Coordinate busy schedules by writing down activities and appointments, including family meeting time. Keeping a visual family calendar works well and makes life more predictable – something children with autism thrive on.
8. Make it fun. Family meetings are a great time for laughter and fun – a great way to promote bonding among all participants. Music, crafts, games, theater and other activities all have the potential for making meetings memorable and will ensure that everyone will want to come back for more.
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