Family meetings are a great way to make plans, coordinate schedules, discuss family goals, celebrate successes, and identify and solve family problems. See if your family is willing to have regular family meetings. Here's how to make them work.
Name the time and place.
Decide how often you'll meet (once a month, once a week, whenever a big issue comes up), what time (after dinner, after homework), for how long (a time limit keeps meetings from dragging on) and where (the kitchen, the living room).
Post an agenda in a conspicuous place.
Encourage family members to write down items they'd like to discuss. While late-breaking issues can always be brought up, the agenda lets people do some thinking ahead of time. Make sure there's at least one fun item on every agenda.
Set some ground rules.
Important rules include listening respectfully, not interrupting each other, and being sure not to tease, whine or raise voices.
Decide what to do about no-shows.
If someone can't come because of an unavoidable conflict, try to reschedule. If one or more family members just decide not to show up, don't reschedule. It's their loss, and they have to abide by decisions made without their input.
Decide on a way to begin each meeting.
Start each meeting on a positive note, even if you've gathered to discuss a conflict. Some families begin by letting each person talk about his or her day. What was the best thing that happened? Were there any surprises?
Appoint a "chair" for each meeting.
This is the person who brings the agenda and runs the meeting. The position should be rotated among all family members so no one person dominates.
Take turns talking.
Some families pass around a "talking stick" for the person who's speaking to hold. You can use anything for a talking stick. If you'd like, you can make one for your family. Start with a wooden spoon and add paint or decoration. Whoever is holding the talking stick gets to speak without being interrupted.
Appoint a scribe for each meeting. The scribe's job is to write down ideas, decisions, plans, etc. He or she can also remind people between meetings of actions they need to take.
If you have a family problem, work together to solve it.
Virtually any conflict can be resolved if you:
- Define the problem in terms that don't accuse people of wrongdoing (example: "I can't study with music on," not "Your music is driving me crazy!").
- Brainstorm solutions together.
- Biscuss the options available to you and pick the best one and make a plan of action.
- Monitor and adjust the solution as needed.
- Think constructively. Focus on solving the problem rather than finding blame.
- Don't label people's ideas as lame, clueless, or silly.
- Don't accuse. Say how you feel.
Keep the mood positive.
While family meetings are the place to bring problems and complaints, they shouldn't degenerate into gripe sessions.
Try to honor your time limit.
When meetings go on too long, people get restless. When people get restless, tempers flare and thinking gets sloppy. Better to schedule another meeting than to run overtime.
Come up with a way to end the meetings.
Go for something upbeat. Example: Create a fun slogan to end every meeting. Other ideas include having each person say one positive thing about another family member or express one thing they're grateful for. Try not to end a meeting when people are angry or upset.
© Pamela Espeland 2003