Now and then in the life of every family, parents need to call a family meeting. Some common purposes include solving a problem, making a decision, planning family outings or activities, or understanding and getting along with a rebelling family member.
Some families hold meetings once a week, but regular meetings work better once a month or every other week to keep them special. Others are held whenever the need arises. They should last no more than an hour. Here are some guidelines I have found helpful for making family meetings run smoother and get the job done:
1. Parents facilitate the meeting, to make sure the other rules get followed and the purpose is met. They don’t hog the floor or the power, but make sure everyone gets a chance to speak briefly without being interrupted.
2. Parents call the meeting, and explain the time and agenda in advance. Because often their sense of timing is better than the parents’, a child can suggest a meeting, but it shouldn’t be called until the parents have their heads together on the agenda. The agenda should be a proposal, with a list of pros and cons for the idea, to get everyone thinking.
3. Keep things positive. Divert negative energy into time-out breaks. Encourage children to talk out resistance in advance, with one or both parents, to help the parents shape the proposal before the meeting starts. Everyone who might be defensive would have time to collect and vent their thoughts in advance. Once they’ve been heard, they will be able to listen better to others.
4. Encourage everyone to express their ideas and feelings in the family meeting, briefly, in a risk-free environment. Parents need to assure children their ideas won’t be criticized or ridiculed by anybody, especially the parents. If children don’t feel safe, they won’t express themselves, and if they haven’t had much input, they won’t be much invested in the outcome.
5. Make decisions by consensus, not majority vote. This promotes harmony, not division. Parents and older children might sum up the discussion like this: "From what I’m hearing, the plan that suits most people would be. . . ." Parents listen for consensus, and declare when it’s been reached.
6. Close the meeting on a positive note. Praise each child for the best of their contributions. Say what you’ve learned to help you understand each family member. Let others follow this lead, with all these closing comments being positive.
In my next column, I’ll talk about how useful it is for more mature families to adopt a mission statement, which can be especially helpful to start a new season or year. I’ll also give families some rules or guidelines that other families have found helpful in working to fulfill their missions.