Everyone thinks family meetings are a great idea — for someone else's family. Your family is too small. Too large. Too busy. The kids won't like it. If you wait till your kids are teens to start family meetings, you're right — they won't like it. Teens don't like anything. If possible, start holding family meetings when your kids are young. But later is better than never. And now is the best time of all.
Family meetings offer many benefits that far outweigh any inconvenience (or a teen's rolling eyes). The family learns to communicate, to problem solve as a group, to set goals, to plan and to resolve conflicts. All this in 30 minutes a week. Who can argue with that? Here's how to get started:
- Choose a good (slow) day and time. Once you set your meeting time, stick to it. No one can plan anything else for that time. We like Sunday nights because we're all home and it's the beginning of a new week. It's a good time to talk about the week ahead, going over schedules, major homework projects and anything else that will impact more than one member of the family. Where to gather? Somewhere comfortable. The kitchen table is ideal.
- Have an agenda. So you stay on topic and don't forget anything, post a piece of paper on the fridge the day of the meeting and let the family sign up topics they want to discuss.
- Appoint roles. You'll need a moderator. If the kids are old enough, take turns. In my home, Chris, 14, does it one week; 13-year-old Lyndsay the next. This does more than keep power-grabs to a minimum; it also serves to teach the teens a valuable leadership lesson they can practice in the comfort of their own home. You'll also need a secretary to take notes so you can check back and see what you've agreed on later. You could even have "specialists" or "committee chairs" who are in charge of certain areas, such as researching a new pet or the fund-raising campaign to fund a ski trip.
- Grab a (makeshift) gavel. Any token object — you don't need the real thing here — can serve as a gavel denoting who has the floor. It could be a teddy bear. It could be a baseball cap. We sometimes use a pen. Whatever. But when you've got the fluffy plume, you've got the floor. That way there's no misunderstanding about whose turn it is to talk.
- Practice age-appropriate democracy. Vote when appropriate. Some matters are adult decisions. Say so.
- End on a good note. At the end of the meeting, the secretary should summarize the major points so it's clear what was decided. Then have dessert and play a game. This will make meetings a lot more fun to look forward to.
Topics will vary from week to week, but here are some that will keep coming up. Discuss one topic at a time so everyone stays focused. Go around the table and give everyone a chance to talk. (Some chatty kids may need timers.)
- Scheduling: One by one, everyone will go through all his or her commitments for the week. Band. Soccer practice. Doctor's appointments. Field trips. Golf games. Big school projects. Recitals. Write these on a large family calendar. Now that all activities are written down, you can see and resolve any conflicts. When you figure out the week in advance, you are not only helping the family get though the week but teaching your children time management skills they will use throughout life.
- Chores: If your family switches off chores weekly, this is a good time to do it. It's also a good time to discuss what chores need to be added or done better in the week ahead.
- Problems: These should be family problems, not personal. This is not a good time to berate Eric about his grades. Do that privately. When someone presents a problem, everyone brainstorms a solution. Show the kids how to set short-term attainable goals. Report back on the progress the next week.
- Fun stuff: Have everyone tell one good thing that happened to them the last week. Try to praise each kid. Announce awards and honors.
- Planning ahead: Plan vacations and school holidays and even the next weekend's activities.
- Laying down the law: You know your family best; make your rules to keep them on track. The only rule here is that you should write them down and stick to them.
- Meetings are mandatory. No TV. No phone calls.
- Be respectful. No interrupting, shouting or belittling remarks.
- Remember to criticize the behavior, not the person. Don't say "Christy is so messy I can't stand it!" Say, "I really don't like the way Christy leaves her homework spread out on the counter."
We don't always agree — but at least we're talking. Meeting adjourned.
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