Family Tip: “Agile Programming”

Family Therapy

Family Tip: “Agile Programming”

Don’t let the fancy name fool you.  In the TED talk above, Bruce Feiler puts an interesting new name on a familiar family tip that works.  After studying successful business models, he realized that successful businesses and successful families both are organized in similar ways.  Simply put, successful families are regularly talking about what is going right and wrong.  They are regularly adapting to new problems and constantly evaluating their effectiveness in implementing solutions.

When families are having difficulties, it becomes easier to avoid the problems.  We try to avoid having difficult conversations because we don’t want to fight.  As problems inevitably come to a head, these difficult conversations become toxic.  Regularly focusing on what is going right and wrong forces family members to practice good communication skills and stops families from letting problems fester.

Back To The Basics: Family Dinner

While Bruce Feiler tries to excite the TED audience with this revolutionary new family concept, he’s really referring to something old.  Bruce sells the idea that families would greatly benefit from sitting together once a week and talking to each other.  Groundbreaking, right?! 

Families are busier than ever.  Throw in all the distractions of technology and it’s a recipe for isolation and family problems.  There is overwhelming evidence that family dinners are very beneficial to family functioning and happiness.  Once at the table, the family can use that time productively by having real and honest conversation.

It’s beneficial when the family tries to evaluate/fix family problems when they are not currently in the middle of a huge fight.  No good solutions usually happen in the middle of a fight.  It doesn’t have to be dinner, either.  You can make time to talk while driving in the car or even on a family walk.  Just find a time when you can all be together on a regular basis. 

The Three Questions:

  1. What worked well this week?  Focusing on the families strengths is crucial. Every family is doing something right.  It’s important to realize what went well and why.
  2. What didn’t work well?  This step is also crucial but it is also more difficult than the first question.  The family members need to be able to hear constructive criticism without getting overly defensive.  Practicing positive communication skills is an essential part of this step.  Click here to learn basic positive communication skills. 
  3. What will we agree to work on in the next week?  The key here is to focus on 2 things instead of making a long list.  Have all the family members agree on these two things to work on.  

Empower Children

While I’m totally against letting children be the boss of the family,  I’m also against not giving children a voice in the family.  At first glance, this concept could be misconstrued as “letting children do whatever they want.”  Instead, this is another old concept that expects that children should be given responsibilities and be held accountable.

When children are empowered, they take more control of their lives in many areas.  Enlist your children in their own upbringing.  Even young children can be expected to have responsibilities.  In addition to those responsibilities, children should learn that their ideas and feelings are valuable to the rest of the family.

Let your children have a say in the family rules and punishments.  When a child feels included in the process, they are much more likely to follow the rules and accept the consequences.  I know this family therapy advice can feel weird, but it works!

Get Personal

Get real and tell your own story to your children.  Evidence shows that we all do better when we learn about where our families came from, hear stories of positive family moments, and learn about times our families overcame difficult times.  Highlight your family’s resilience.

What’s new is actually old.  I love watching this TED talk and hearing Bruce Feiler sell these “new ideas” that he’s learned from tech startups and successful businesses.  If you want better family functioning, get together and start talking.  And don’t forget to value all the members of your team.


Chris Koniarczyk is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Addictions Counseling in Denver, CO.  He is the owner of Christopher John Counseling, which specialized in family counseling.  If your young adult or family want additional help with family functioning, click here to schedule a free in-person consultation.

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