Setting the Stage for Success: 8 Tips for Managing Family Meetings

Conveying messages about assessment findings and treatment recommendations during initial or progress meetings with family members is one of the most critical responsibilities of school-based therapists. Your delivery method often sets the tone of the meeting, and shapes attitudes and responses. If everything goes well, participants feel that they are collaborating on decisions. If things don’t go so well, adversarial relationships can develop.

Success starts by recognizing that parents and other caretakers are eager to learn about their loved one’s skills and needs. Many parents bring fear, a lack of confidence, or their own negative experiences to the table. Some may be concerned that treatment may not go well, while others may think they are responsible for the disability. Teachers and healthcare professionals are eager to learn more about the child and explore ways to help them in home, school, work, or community situations. Meeting outcomes are best when each participant can share and contribute relevant information to advance the team’s knowledge about the child’s challenges, capabilities, treatment, and future needs.

Planning and preparing for meetings with family can lead to positive partnerships and a greater sense of success for both family and therapists. Healthcare providers, educators, and administrators must follow specific policies and procedures for family meetings and conferences. However, providers and families may differ in their opinion of what is best for a child.

There are steps we can take to create a positive tone when meeting with families to confirm that they are valued members of the team. Ultimately, this will help family and providers accomplish their primary mutual goal—providing the best treatment possible based on need and evidence-based practice.

Here are 8 tips for successfully managing family meetings:

1. Plan and prepare ahead of time

  • Confirm the meeting date and time with all participants.
  • Determine two to three key goals to be accomplished.
  • Gather support information and prepare copies for each family member in attendance.
  • Prepare portfolio examples that represent the child’s successes and challenges.

2. Set the tone for the meeting in the invitation.

  • Let the family know the purpose of the meeting and what to expect.
  • State the time and location of the meeting.
  • Ensure you clearly communicate the directions for getting into the building and the meeting room.
  • Encourage the family to come with a list of questions, ideas, and performance examples.

3. Develop a clear and achievable meeting agenda.

  • Provide an outline of key topics that will be discussed.
  • Determine the approximate amount of time to spend on each topic.
  • List the names of the participants for introductions.
  • Allow time for discussion and questions after each major topic, rather than waiting until the end for questions and comments.
  • Give the family time to process the discussion and formulate meaningful questions.

4. Create a pleasant meeting atmosphere.

  • Make sure the meeting environment appears professional and organized.
  • Meet around an adult-size table and chairs, versus across a desk or child-size table.
  • Provide parents with a copy of the agenda, paper for note-taking, and a pen.
  • Arrange the seating so that distractions such as noise or interruptions will be minimal.
  • Plan seating arrangements to encourage equal participation and limit the sense of “us” versus “them.” Sit next to family versus across from them.

5. Start on the right foot.

  • Welcome and introduce the family members to each participant.
  • Offer a beverage and a place for belongings.
  • Make nametags if the group is large.
  • Briefly explain the purpose of the meeting.
  • Give the family five minutes to state their goals and a few questions they’d like to discuss.
  • Begin by discussing positive experiences and stories.

6. Foster interactive dialogue.

  • Invite—and value—contributions from family throughout the meeting.
  • Invite each provider to re-introduce themself and briefly explain the focus of their services to lay the groundwork for discussing findings and recommendations.
  • Share positive examples and stories in addition to those that may be more difficult for the family to receive.
  • Actively listen to family members, communicating and confirming that you are interested in their perspective.
  • Present facts and share concrete examples of the student’s work.
  • Frequently check that everyone is on the same page and understands the information presented.
  • Watch the family’s body language and provide clarification if anyone seems confused or overwhelmed.
  • Avoid close-ended questions like “Do you have any questions?” Instead, ask open-ended questions about the information presented, such as “Can you describe how your child demonstrates that skill at home?”

7. End on a positive note.

  • Designate one person to summarize the highlights of the meeting.
  • Re-state the recommendations that were made.
  • Provide tips and concrete suggestions of practical ways family members can help at home.
  • Outline next steps for treatment and for staying in touch.

8. Follow up with the family.

  • Provide your contact information complete with office address, email address, and phone number. Invite the family to contact you if they have questions after the meeting.
  • Send the family any items you committed to send them during the meeting, such as your summary of recommendations, informative articles, educational resources, findings reports, or other pertinent documents.
  • Check in with the family to see if any questions came up after the conference ended.

For more information on how you can facilitate engagement and connection between parents, educators, and other therapists, I offer this four-part MedBridge course to help you build a fresh new approach to establishing meaningful partnerships between all members of a child’s care team.