PARENTING TODAY: Family meetings can be fun, ease stress

It’s been a busy school year but you’ve got your home and family organized, right?

When 14-year-old Kendra has band practice and 12-year-old Cody has a swimming lesson on the same night and at the same time, you are calm and collected. You have a plan in place.

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A few weeks ago we tackled the question of homework and I mentioned that family meetings are a good strategy when it comes to figuring out when the kids can get to this task. Not only can you unravel the question of Kendra and Cody and their schedules, you can at the same time make a homework plan.

The trick is regular family meetings. We have all watched a scene in some family sitcom or other in which there is a problem and someone, usually a parent, yells, “Get down here, we’re going to have a family meeting!” Cue laugh track and you just know someone is going to get into big trouble. So who would ever want a family meeting?

I’m talking about something quite different. I recommend family meetings as a way to get organized.

You can use family meetings to plan the week including all scheduled events, to organize fun events such as birthday parties or family outings and yes, to also deal with conflict.

In terms of your kids’ activities you may need to discuss how they’re each going to get to band practice and swimming, whether there’s a carpool arranged and when you’ll have dinner on that busy night? Also on the agenda is homework and household chores. Who’ll do what and when?

The more you plan (and yes I am one of those planning freaks) the calmer things will be around the house. And, as a bonus, your children will learn to start thinking ahead.

If they need a ride to an activity, they will talk about it at the meeting instead of three minutes before they need to leave the house. And this planning will start to be part of their lives. Not bad, eh? They may even end up actually organizing class projects or studying for exams.

There are some considerations in order to have successful family meetings.

A regular time; weekly is normally best. This way it’s not a question of calling a meeting because someone is upset, confused or overwhelmed. It’s a regular thing, it just happens.

Make all participants equal. This does not mean voting. It does mean that all members have equal opportunity to introduce topics and to speak.

Decisions are reached by consensus. If there is no option (a non-negotiable family rule) children can express their opinions but must know in advance that this is a non-negotiable item.

An example of this might be drinking and driving or, more prosaically, being rude to another family member.

Rotate the chairmanship. Children not only enjoy having a turn to chair, they will also learn about meeting procedures and rules.

Build an agenda. An agenda will keep you on track and organized (remember organization is one of the goals of this activity!).

It’s a great idea to build the agenda during the week. So when Duncan comes to you to talk about going to a volleyball meet, you suggest he add it to the agenda. The agenda is posted in a public place, like on the fridge, so kids can access it easily.

Another aspect of a good agenda is timing. Decide ahead of time the length of the meeting. If you determine it will last 30 minutes, the children know exactly when they can leave. If you haven’t covered all items by then either get permission from the whole group to continue or hold some items over until the next week.

Take minutes. A written record of decisions solves disputes and permits a follow-up evaluation. Oh and a real bonus.

Years later, these minutes are a priceless reminder of the growth of your family. Our books are as interesting as our photo albums.

Have a follow-up time for evaluation. It is very important for everyone to know exactly when a decision can be re-evaluated and changed if necessary.

Finally, family meetings are not a time for parents to dump on the children! Have fun, lighten up, do some planning and enjoy the time together as a family.

Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert and author of Vive la Différence, Who’s In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.

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