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The third week in February - in addition to our children being off from school - was the winter Congressional recess. This is a time when members of Congress return to their home constituencies and hold town meetings. It is a favorite form of citizenship participation in government for many of us - we can speak our mind to our representatives directly and in person.

 

Why not consider having a "family meeting" - your version of a "town meeting" - in your home? You can help you and your children find your voice - a civil and appropriate voice that discusses issues in a calm and respectful way - and develop important skills like listening, self-expression, compromise, and problem-solving.

 

Family meetings can be used for many purposes:

·         to solve family problems of living together (like who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning or who leaves the empty milk carton in the refrigerator and doesn't put milk on the shopping list);

·         to propose new family rules (like "no electronics at the dinner table" or "no skateboards in the house");

·         to reinforce family values (like "everyone can speak their mind if the tone is respectful and civil" or "this family gives to charity and believes in community service");

·         to check in with one another (you all might share your schedule for the next period of time and adjust chores and activities if one family member is especially stressed);

·         to plan family activities (like the next vacation or a visit to a museum);

·         to enjoy one another's company!

 

Here are some useful ideas for setting up regular family meetings in your home:

·         Pick a regular time and stick to it (like the second Sunday of the month for dinner).

·         Rotate who's in charge of the meeting (and perhaps have that person plan for a special dessert to share) - anyone five years old or up can chair a meeting with some guidance and practice.

·         Have a "family meeting agenda items" white board in the kitchen so any family member can bring up something for discussion - that way, if something comes up amongst the kids, you can say "put it on the agenda" and you can discuss this next time.

·         Begin each family meeting with a round of sharing: a simple routine might be going around the table and sharing one thing that went well today, one thing that didn't go well today, and one thing each person is looking forward to tomorrow.

·         Have simple rules for sharing: use a "talking stick" to prevent interruptions, be vigilant about no put downs, give each person the right to pass, and consider all ideas until you get to the feasible and constructive ones.

·         End each family meeting with a round of appreciations: each person goes around the table and expresses one thing they appreciate in each family member who participated in the meeting.

 

One important point: for me, families are not "democracies" but hopefully more like "benevolent dictatorships" with Mom and Dad having final say. Nonetheless, you will soon see the benefits of treating your children as valued members of the family community and all of you will become better creative problem-solvers.

 

Like any skill, having a successful family meeting will take some time. Stick with it and all will be well - you will be helping your children to develop important life skills.

 

 

 

 

 

We live in a challenging time. Our children may overhear politicians, peers, and even family members speaking to one another in language that is divisive and hurtful. They may hear things that are overstated or simply not true. How, then, do we model the behavior we hope to see in our children - respect, honesty, and civility?

 

Respect is the right of every individual. We can always find common ground with another, in any dispute, even if that common ground is simply being human. Humility and honor are ways of showing respect - no one of us is better than, we are equals. Everyone is worthy of dignity. We respect our children when we avoid shame, ridicule, threats, and punishment but instead provide opportunities for restitution, forgiveness, and future growth.

If Johnny drops a glass full of lemonade, instead of saying something like: "You clumsy child! Now I have to clean this up. Grow up!"

we can come up with appropriate consequences in a respectful way by saying something like: "I will deal with the broken glass so you don't cut yourself, and then you need to get some paper towels and wipe up the lemonade. Everyone makes mistakes; let's think about how you might do this differently next time, OK?"

 

In terms of honesty, here are a few tips:

·         Try to tell the truth with your children - if they cannot handle the information (about a family member's illness or a difficult situation) tell them that the adults are doing what they can to take care of the situation and you will fill them in later.

·         Avoid words like "always" and "never" - they are rarely true, and tend to close doors in an argument or conflict.

·         Hold yourself to the highest standard - our integrity is a valuable part of who we are and can be thrown away with a lie or a cheat or a steal. Let your children know how you work on rigorous honesty and ask them to do the same.

 

Civility - manners, politeness, courtesy - is a basic currency in how we communicate with and treat one another. It is not "political correctness" but common sense. We all know the Golden Rule - "treat others the way you want to be treated" - but let's also think about what some are calling the Platinum Rule - "treat others the way they want to be treated". We can do even better if we follow Immanuel Kant's advice: "act in any situation the way you would want every other person to act". If we spend some time thinking about the implications of this - with our own actions and those of our children - we may see some startling results.

 

This is all just good human decency. As Dorothy Law Nolte says in her poem "Children Live What They Learn" (© 1972):

 

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with 
fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel 
shy.
If children live with 
jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with 
shame, they learn to feel guilty.


If children live with encouragement, they learn 
confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to 
love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn 
generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have 
faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Let's be sure to create a better world, shall we?

 

 

 

What Really Matters

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If you are like me, when someone asks "what are your values?" you might answer with a good list of positive attributes.  Simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, service, and stewardship might be on my list - as taught by my faith tradition - and yours might include other values like love, hard work, and compassion.

You can think of your values like a garden to be tended - a place of beauty and abundance when cared for and nurtured. Just as we may bring cut flowers from the garden to brighten our home and vegetables from the garden to feed our family, we can bring the fruits of these values into our daily lives when our "garden of values" is vibrant and thriving.

Lists are easy - we often have little trouble here - but practice can be harder. As we go through our days, it's what we spend time doing that represents our values to the world at large.

Take a moment to look at your schedule for today. Surely some of the time you are attending to basic needs - food, shelter, rest, getting from here to there. Some of the time you are fulfilling your role as a parent/employee/friend/neighbor, clearly places in your day where values come into play. But is there also time when you are also tending your garden of values? A time for reflection, sharing with others, service to the needy, or communing with nature? What works for you to bring energy and life to your garden of values? What sustains you as a person who makes a difference in this world?

Have a quiet moment for reflection and inspiration. Read a story with a child. Spend time with a friend who is struggling. Participate in a local service project. Take a walk in the sunshine. Then your life will speak your values.

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