Holding family meetings

We’ve been using family meetings as a tool for managing and planning our life for more than eight years now. For our family, the aim of family meetings is to:

• provide an organised way of dealing with contentious issues

• create a forum where all voices are equal

create a space where we can jointly plan fun activities and other parts of home life

role model and offer opportunities for the kids to practise decision making, negotiation and problem-solving skills

create a sense of ownership of family decisions.

During the meetings we try to encourage the kids to take part in solving problems and generating ideas. If a child has an issue they want raised at the family meeting, they have to bring along a solution and not just the problem.

We started having family meetings when our eldest child was four and our second child was two. When you only have children of this age at a family meeting, it can feel slightly strange! However, starting the meetings with kids at this age means they’ll grow up accepting them as part of their life: they’ll expect to have meetings regularly, and will be prepared to contribute their thoughts and opinions.

Guidelines for family meetings

We developed guidelines so everyone would understand how family meetings were to be run. Depending on the age of your kids and your family dynamics, our guidelines may not necessarily be a perfect match, but you can use the key headings that follow to develop your own guidelines for providing a strong framework for your family meetings.

Set a time and frequency

Set a regular time and day when everyone is most likely to be at home. Decide how often you want to meet. (We currently meet fortnightly.)

Choose a suitable place

The meetings need to be held in a place that’s free from distractions. (We use the dinner table.)

Decide who should attend

All family members over the age of two are expected to attend our meetings.

Rotate the convenor or chair

At our place we take it in turns to convene meetings so that everyone has a go. Mum or Dad assists the toddler and preschooler until they get the hang of things.

Take minutes

We take minutes at each meeting and these are always reviewed as the first agenda item at the next family meeting. The children who can write also have a turn at taking the minutes.

Choose a time frame

Due to the age of the children attending, we aim to make our meetings last no longer than 20 minutes.

Raise hands

Everyone must raise their hand and be acknowledged by the convenor before they may speak. This practice teaches children that in meetings not only do you have an opportunity to talk, but you also need to listen to others.

Follow agenda items

Although we use a formal structure for our family meetings, they’re generally lighthearted and fun. Quite often the meeting is more of a sharing time, where kids or adults provide updates to the family on areas of their life or items of interest.

Ensure agreement

We keep working on a resolution for each matter raised until we have one that all family members can agree on. This is critical to the success of our family meetings. No-one should leave the family meeting feeling they haven’t been listened to or their needs haven’t been taken into consideration.

The benefits of family meetings

Our regular family meetings have allowed us to establish a forum for resolving problems and sharing ideas. When a contentious issue arises in the middle of a busy day it can be very helpful if I can assure everyone I’m putting the matter on the agenda for the next meeting. It instantly takes the heat out of the situation and makes the kids start thinking about solutions.

Family meetings allow for all family members to feel their contribution has been taken into account, regardless of their age. This doesn’t mean the kids get exactly what they want, but it teaches them about compromise and that sometimes getting agreement means making concessions. It also teaches the older children to work out what are the ‘must-haves’ in relation to their issues, and makes them practise using persuasive arguments to attain what they want. Most importantly, as the kids have had an input regarding the decisions being made at family meetings, there’s a much better chance they’ll stick to those decisions in the future.

Taking action

• Establish morning and evening routines for your children.

• Determine your base operating level of cleanliness and tidiness for the family home.

• Create a key task guide that will help you maintain this base level.

• Complete your key tasks using 15-minute blocks of activity.

• Allocate household chores to every member of the family as part of their daily routines.

• Determine your minimum requirements for laundry across the week and incorporate them into your key task guide.

• Use family meetings as a tool for managing and planning daily family life.

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