Here are some important components for successful family meetings:
• Set a regular time for meetings that everyone can count on. For example, every Thursday at 7:00 p.m. (after dinner but before homework/bedtime.)
Post an agenda that everyone can see and write on. The refrigerator, the bathroom door, or next to the family computer may be good choices. Family members can then write down any issues that they would like to see addressed during the next meeting time.
• Begin the meeting by giving everyone an opportunity to saw something positive about one or more family members. This sets a positive tone for the meeting and allows family members to get their efforts validated.
• Assign one person as a facilitator and one person as a recorder. These positions should ideally be rotated so that everyone shares in this responsibility. The facilitator is in charge of calling the meeting to order, reading the items on the agenda, calling on people to speak, and generally keeping things on track. The recorder writes down suggestions and makes notes as to which ones were agreed upon.
• When an issue is discussed, suggestions are taken during a “brainstorming” period. The suggestions are then voted, with all family members needing to be in agreement before the suggestion is implemented. Sometimes, a subject may need to be discussed for several weeks (to allow for a cooling off period or for more information to be gathered on the subject) before a decision is agreed upon.
• Sometimes an issue does not concern the entire family, such as when two members are experiencing a conflict and would like assistance in problem solving.
• Go over the family calendar to coordinate schedules, plan for rides, and highlight important events. Be sure to also schedule family fun time.
• The meeting may be concluded with a game, dessert, or other fun activity.This contributes to a family's sense of unity and cohesion, while demonstrating to the members that family meetings can be fun, not just productive.
Keep in mind that it takes time for family meetings to be successful. Just as with other skills, practice will play a big part in the overall effectiveness, although no meeting is going to be “perfect.” The simplicity of just having a forum for which to air feelings can prove very helpful, and discussion alone can inspire change. Parent's main objective is to learn to give up lectures and control (they should not, however, discontinue setting reasonable limits). The children will come to learn that they have a “voice” within the family and their concerns will be listened to and taken seriously. Finally, solutions may not last forever, and issues are likely to re–emerge at a later time. Don't give up! Remember that failure is simply a part of growth and learning.