The Beginner's Guide to Family Councils
If you’re anything like me, when you heard Elder Ballard’s conference talk outlining four different types of family councils, a little part of you went, “Sigh. ANOTHER thing to add to our family’s schedule?” Between soccer games and dance classes, FHE, mutual and other church activities, adding even one more thing can seem deflating.
However, the more I thought about it, the more those promised blessings were a little too hard to pass up:
“. . . family council held regularly will help us spot family problems early and nip them in the bud; councils will give each family member a feeling of worth and importance; and most of all they will assist us to be more successful and happy in our precious relationships, within the walls of our homes.”
Solving our family’s problems before they start? Helping each child to feel important? An actionable solution for keeping my family my main focus when there are a million other things competing for it?
We decided to give these family councils a shot. In trying to decide how we want ours to look exactly, we’ve come up with a list of questions to guide each different type, so we’d have some structure. We don’t use all the questions every time. We usually just stick to one or two, after that the kids lose interest. I’ll include our lists here. If you are struggling to know how to structure your family councils, feel free to pick a few questions from our list and experiment with which ones work the best for your family.
1. Full Family Councils
In addition to his most recent conference talk, Elder and Sister Ballard participated in this really helpful Q & A session about family councils back in 2003. He says,
“I think of the traditional definition that says a family council is a time when a father and mother sit down and go through a list of dos and don’ts with their children. I was never able to make it work that way. I found that when the list came out, it turned the children off. So I tried bringing up a specific problem—such as the garden needs weeding—and then simply asked the family, ‘What can we do about it? What are your ideas?’
A council is when parents let their children help solve the problem. And when everyone agrees to a solution, everyone will have ownership of the problem.”
There you have it. The most important priority of our family councils is facilitating open and candid conversation in order to solve each other’s problems.
I’ve honestly been stunned at how helpful this council has been for me as a mother. For instance, I can say, “Hey no one is helping me get dinner on the table! Come set the table!” which is met with grudging, slow “helpers.” Or during family council I can express honestly how it makes me feel when I’m stressed as I run around trying to finish cooking, set the table and hold our two-year-old. When I explain my feelings and ask if anyone has any ideas, I’m always surprised at how anxious to help out my children are. (“I could help set the table! I can hold the baby!”) It’s definitely a better way to parent.
When to do it?
We’ve decided to hold ours Sunday night DURING dinner. Having it during a meal solved our problem of it just never happening. The whole family is present and it helps the little kids to not be so squirmy.
- Does anyone have a problem they’d like help solving?
- What do you guys think? What can we do? How can we help?
- How are everyone’s chores and responsibilities going? How can we help?
- What do we have planned for this week?
- Does anyone have any upcoming tests? Play dates? Sports games?
- What are you excited for? What are you nervous for?
- What has someone in the family done for you this week that you especially appreciated?
- How can we pray for you in the coming week?
- Here is a PDF the church put out in a Home and Family Education Manual called Family Councils: A Heavenly Pattern.
2. Executive Family Council (Parents Only)
This is the only type of council my husband and I have been doing regularly for years. We follow the guidelines for companionship inventory found in Preach My Gospel: start with a prayer, express gratitude, and then work out difficulties.
I can honestly say this is the best piece of marriage advice I have to offer (and I offer it frequently). Having a safe, designated place to discuss hard things ensures you are regularly discussing difficulties in a healthy way rather than bottling things up and exploding later.
When to do it?
We hold ours every Sunday night once the kids are in bed. Personally I think once a week is best, so whenever you are alone together and not too tired, try scheduling it in.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What did my spouse do that I really appreciated this week?
- What needs do I have that should be discussed?
Questions to ask your spouse:
- How can I help you feel more loved this week?
- Do you think you’ll need more closeness or more alone time over the next couple of days?
- What do you think ____ (kid’s name) is struggling with? How can we help?
- What are the main stressors in your life right now? Is there any way I can alleviate that stress for you?
- This Ensign article from 2014 called Speak, Listen and Love about communicating with your spouse effectively offers some great tips to apply when holding these councils.
3. Limited Family Council (Both Parents, One Child)
Elder Ballard says that these councils are primary to help a child make decisions in advance about what they will and will not do in the future as well as a designated time for both parents to “carefully listen to serious concerns and challenges” that their child is facing.
One roadblock we’ve encountered with this one is simply when to do it. We found we were almost never alone with just one child, so these types of councils were not happening organically.
When to do it?
We’ve decided to schedule them after the kids’ bedtime once a month for each kid. This has the added benefit of making them each excited to come talk to us since they get to stay up later than they otherwise would.
Questions to ask:
- What has made you happy this week?
- Have you been struggling with anything?
- What have you failed at? (make sure to give them a high five after this one, it’s the trying that’s important!)
- Has anyone done anything super nice for you this week?
- What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
- What are you looking forward to next week?
- How can we help you feel loved and important this week?
I love the conference talk “It’s Never Too Early and It’s Never Too Late” from Elder Foster last October. In the talk he mentions a man named Pablo with whom he was very impressed. When he asked why, Pablo said he is who he is because of his father. Pablo said,
“When I was nine, my dad took me aside and said, ‘Pablo, I was nine once too. Here are some things you may come across. You’ll see people cheating in school. You might be around people who swear. You’ll probably have days when you don’t want to go to church. Now, when these things happen—or anything else that troubles you—I want you to come and talk to me, and I’ll help you get through them. And then I’ll tell you what comes next.’”
When I heard that I thought, “Wow, I want to have those conversations with my kids!” Now I’ve scheduled when exactly I will have those talks.
4. One-on-one Family Council (One Parent, One Child)
Elder Ballard says these are the most informal of the councils and generally just happen organically. We try to schedule regular dates with each of our kids, just to make sure they really are happening. Plus, calendaring them in, as Elder Ballard says, makes it so “children can anticipate and look forward to a special alone time with Mom or Dad.”
When to do it?
We try to make these monthly events for each kid to go out with one parent. We’re not successful every month, but we’re trying. I’ve found that thinking it needs to be something elaborate keeps me from doing it at all. It doesn’t need to be fancy. We’ve gone for walks, we’ve thrown rocks in a river, we’ve played a game, we’ve gone to McDonalds for an ice cream cone. The important part is the time together, not an elaborate activity.
- How would you rate your day on a scale from 1 to 10? Why?
- What made you laugh today?
- Tell me something you learned about a friend recently.
- Did anyone push your buttons today?
- When did you feel proudest of yourself today?
- The conference talk “Did I Tell You . . . ?” by Susan W Tanner talks about advice she wanted to be sure to give to her kids before they left home. It offers a great example on how to council our children.
Hope you find these little outlines useful. I’ve been surprised that something I thought of as “just one more thing” to add to my to-do list really has fulfilled the promises Elder Ballard offers. We’re certainly not perfect and many weeks have gone by family council-less, but mostly these councils have become little check points for me to get my head out of the day-to-day grind of life and focus on what is most important- nourishing my relationship with my husband and my kids.
Celeste graduated from BYU with bachelor's and master's degrees in sociology. Her proudest accomplishments include her marriage, her three kids, and that one time she had all the rooms in her house clean at the same time.