Call a Family Meeting

Family Chaos or Conflict?

By Kristi Hemingway

A strong, healthy family – like any successful team or business—doesn’t happen by chance. We know this. We understand the need to listen intently and make eye contact, to teach good communication and leadership skills, and to share goals, dreams and decisions. But let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to do those things when parents and kids are running in 10 different directions most of the time. Just getting a family through the week dressed, fed and on time by whatever means necessary is often all we can manage

Still, you can foster communication and family unity – as well as simplify your schedule and distress your household! How? Family meetings.

Another Meeting?

Yes, I know – meetings at work, PTO, Scouts, church committees. Who wants another meeting? You will, once you’ve tried it. Family meetings not only teach management, communication, and give everyone a say in decisions, but they minimize conflict and nagging.

The beds weren’t made? No need to huff around the house, spoiling everyone’s morning. Just jot it on the agenda for this week’s meeting. You can address it when you’re calm, and the family will decide together on a solution. Joey wants a raise in his allowance or more computer time? No need for him to pester you while you’re making dinner or on the phone. He just jots it on the agenda.

Everyone – even very young children – will buy into plans that are agreed on mutually. Even if all decisions aren’t to kids’ liking, they’ll know they’ve been heard.

Get it Going

Here’s how to start:

Find the Time – The time to start weekly meetings is now. The younger your kids, the better because, well, they still like to be with you – but it’s never too late. Keep meetings short. Start with 15 minutes at first, build up to 30 minutes, and keep it there no matter what. Longer – Yuck! No one likes a long meeting.

Setting a Date – Set a day and time and stick to it. If you get flaky and start moving it around for everyone’s convenience, no one takes it seriously and it will fizzle out quickly. Choose a time when everyone is usually home.

Ideal Location: Dining room, den, patio – it’s up to you. Just minimize distractions. Turn off the phone ringer, radios and television. No cell phones allowed.

The Nuts and Bolts

You’ve set the day, the time and the place. Now what’s it all about?

1. Have an agenda. It’s a must if you want to avoid three-hour meetings where nothing gets decided. Post a piece of paper on the fridge or organization board, and family members can list items there throughout the week. (See sidebar for further ideas and a sample agenda format)

2. Establish roles. The moderator moves you through the agenda. The secretary takes notes in your official family meeting notebook. Various other tasks are assigned weekly. For example, you’re thinking of getting a dog. Samantha agrees to research three different breeds and report back next week. Trade roles weekly. When kids realize that they get a turn to be in charge, they’re in.

3. Set ground rules. Discuss one topic at a time and don’t move on until the moderator confirms that everyone has had a chance to give brief input. (Timers work well for chatty kids and adults) No interrupting, shouting, dissing someone’s comment or idea – oh, and especially no eye rolling. When dealing with conflict, address the behavior not the person – “Jill, please stop leaving your backpack in the middle of the hallway” versus “Jill, you’re such a slob.” Issues that don’t involve the whole family should not be addressed in the family meeting.

4. Decisions should be made by consensus if at all possible. When a unanimous decision can’t be reached, postpone the decision until more research or discussion can happen. If the decision must be made now, you can allow majority rule or pull parental rank, but only use these when absolutely necessary.

5. Emotion is inevitable. Dealing with conflict is good. It allows you to teach healthy ways of dealing with negative emotions – “I’m angry now so let’s table this until I calm down.” Don’t permit meetings to become gripe sessions. If someone brings a complaint, he or she must also have a solution to propose. Also, meetings are not therapy sessions focused on one person’s problem.

All in all, you’re investing 30 minutes of time once a week for a stronger, smoother and happier family life.

Freelance writer Kristi Hemingway's current family motto is: "To be kind is more important than to be right." Her husband reminds her of it whenever he takes a wrong turn.