family meeting how-to

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 until your kids are teens to start a family meeting, 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.

A family meeting offers 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, even if they do.

When to Meet

Pick day and time for your family meeting that poses the fewest conflicts. Once you set your meeting time, stick to it. No one can plan anything for that time.

We like Sunday nights because we're all home and it's the beginning of a new week so it's a good time to plan. 

We go over schedules, plans, major homework projects, and anything else that will impact the family.

Where:  Choose a Comfortable Meeting Location

Hold your meeting in a place where the seating puts everyone on relatively equal footing; somewhere comfortable. The kitchen table is ideal.

Prepare a Family Meeting Agenda 

  • 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 kids sign up family ideas they want to discuss.
  • Appoint roles. You'll need a moderator. If the kids are old enough, take turns. Bobby can do it this week. Sarah can do it next week. They'll learn valuable leadership skills 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.
  • Have a token object to denote who has the floor. It could be a teddy bear. It could be a hat. Whatever. But when you've got the bunny rabbit, you've got the floor. That way there's no misunderstandings about whose turn it is to talk.
  • Vote when appropriate. Some matters are adult decisions. Say that.
  • For a positive meeting, 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.

Discuss Meeting Topics One at a Time

Family topics for discussion will vary from week to week, but there are some that will keep coming up. Discuss one topic at a time so that you stay focused. Go around the table and give everyone a chance to talk. (Some kids may need timers.)

  • Scheduling: One by one, everyone will go through all his commitments for the week. Band. Soccer practice. Doctor's appointments. Field trips. Golf games. Write these on a  large family calendar. Now that the activities are written down, you can see and resolve any conflicts. When you figure that out a week in advance, you not only are helping the family get through the week, but you are teaching your children time management skills they will use throughout life.
  • Problems. These should be family problems, not personal. This is not a good time to berate Billy about his grades. Do that privately. When someone presents a problem, a family discussion ensues, where everyone brainstorms a solution. Show the kids how to set short-term attainable goals. Report back on the progress the next week.
  • Ideas for family fun stuff. Have everyone tell one good thing that happened to them the last week. Try to praise each kid. Announce awards and honors.
  • Plan ahead. Plan vacations and school holidays and even the next weekend's activities.

Establish Meeting Rules

  • Meetings are mandatory. No cell phones (unless for scheduling purposes). No phone calls. No texting.
  • Be respectful. No interrupting, shouting, or belittling remarks. The goal is a positive meeting.
  • Remember to criticize the behavior, not the person. Don't say "Christy is so messy I can't stand it!" Say, "I don't really like the way Christy leaves her homework spread all over the counter."

This should be a fun time for your family. Serve popcorn. Or indulge in ice cream creations. Make it festive. So be sure to end your meetings on a positive note.

Family meetings are a great way to tackle all sorts of family dilemmas. You may not always agree - be at least you're talking.

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