Have you ever called an “emergency family meeting?” Did you gather in a circle around the kitchen table? Or huddle together on the couch? What prompted that meeting? Chances are it was a less than desirable circumstance or conflict. Perhaps it was a broken curfew, academic struggles, or a disrespectful outburst. Family challenges often prompt us to gather up, get talking, and fix problems.
What if your children associated “family meetings” or circles with honest, connected, nurturing communication, though? Not just problems!
As a Child-Centered Coach for Teens and Parents, I teach restorative circles to families with school-aged children. This powerful, co-created system for family-community-building and conflict management provides families with powerful, timeless, and healing tools.
Because family systems are constantly changing as the humans grow and evolve, this go-to system protects and supports family conversation, creates a strong foundation of trust, and encourages authentic connection. Using this method, you and you family will build positive associations with sitting in circles and talking about a wide range of family-based topics. Rather than expecting a lecture or a consequence during the “meeting,” your children and teens will experience “circles” as the rich soil from which the family cultivates love and understanding.
Restorative circles invite both parents and children of all ages to co-create the family environment and relationships together. It’s up to you, as the parent, to lead your family, yes, but this doesn’t mean you do it alone or without support. As you share the power of building your life together with your children, pressure and weight can be lifted. You don’t have to manage everything on your own. Likewise, as your children become more empowered, they engage in and create family dynamics with greater intention and investment. It’s a win-win, both in the short and long term.
“The fundamental unifying hypothesis of restorative practices is disarmingly simple: that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
Peacemaking circles and restorative practices have roots in Native and indigenous cultures. This idea of gathering face to face is not new. However, being open to the wisdom of our ancestors and of the process of circling takes intention. We have different distractions, interruptions, and challenges in our lives; thus, it takes attention and purposeful action to create a strong foundation of community within the family unit.
Restorative circles offer families a framework for having open communication and bonding opportunities. If you commit, as a family, to having a weekly Family Building Circles, coming to circle in moments of conflict or difference will feel much more comfortable. Here, I offer you the core elements of Family Building Circles, along with the philosophy behind each aspect.
Core Elements Circle + The Philosophy of the Circle:
Circle- Circles have no end and no beginning. Each person’s seat place in the circle is equal to the next person’s and you can make eye contact with everyone in the circle. All members of the family circle sit at the same level, either floor or chair. This is symbolic of shared and equal power. The circle itself indicates that all family members are worthy of the same respect; each member has the freedom and space to express themselves. “Circle” is also the name of the process of having an organized dialogue while sitting in circle.
Talking Piece- An object that can be safely and easily passed is the talking piece. It indicates that only one person will talk at a time; likewise, it denotes that all other members will actively listen when they don’t have the talking piece. The talking piece will always travel the circle in order, even if a member chooses to skip a round, which encourages focus, patience, and turn-taking. Talking pieces can be created or selected to watch the topic of each individual circle or they might be an item that the family relates to and holds dear.
Rounds– This is one pass around the circle in order. Family building circles are often pre-planned and focus on a single topic. A series of questions guide the family through intentional conversation and sharing. The talking piece regulates the round, giving each member equal opportunity to speak and be heard.
Values- What guides you and helps inform your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors? What is most important to you? What do you hold dear? Family members name their values as a guide for how you will treat one another during the circle process (and moving forward from the circle). Values also establish safety norms for the conversation and the relationships.
Facilitator- All members of the family participate equally; however, one member may be the facilitator of a particular circle. The facilitator reads each prompt and helps ensure that circle norms are being respected. Facilitation is an opportunity for children to be leaders in their family.
As you begin using circles often with the intention of building family community, you will experience a growth in trust, communication, and openness. Then, when conflict arises, you already have a system and connected emotional history for dialoguing about how to transform and repair the hurt.
E-mail Courtney for a FREE template and model for a family building circle to get started!