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Family Meeting Regroup

Make time for a family pow wow to get your brood back in sync

Ever had to be at three of your kids' events – at exactly the same time and date? Find yourself texting your tween more than actually talking? Or is your planner a hopeless sea of Post-it notes and scribbles? They may all be warning signs that your family could use a face-to-face meeting. Read on to discover why they're important, how to run them – and tips to make them more effective.

Why gather?

The point of a family meeting isn't much different than what a business might tackle in the boardroom. The key goal: discussing and solving challenges. A few popular prompters:

  • Interpersonal issues. Toy-sharing, name-calling, picking. It's called sibling rivalry, and it's a big culprit. Issues between kids and parents can flair up, too.
  • 'Business expansion'. Whether it's a cell phone or later curfew, setting parameters for new privileges can be cause for a sit-down.
  • Budgeting complaints. Think "bigger allowance." These negotiations need an open forum focused on the task.
  • Sync the family schedule. Get a grip on major events, practices, performances, games, deadlines and other upcoming factors that could affect the entire family. Look ahead, and talk together about what's coming up (and possible obstacles!).

Coming to order

What makes a good family meeting? Naturally, they'll all be tailored a bit differently. But there are a few rules of thumb.

  • Regular basis. Keep them consistent, whether they're once a week or, as kids get older, once a month. They'll become a healthy part of the routine.
  • Have an agenda. Think along the lines of a few bullets – not a turbo "outline" – to make sure you hit the main topics. Otherwise, it's very easy to get sidetracked.
  • Shake it up. That said, it's also good to vary the focus a bit. For instance, you might hone in on scheduling at one meeting – and deeper moral or spiritual discussions at another.
  • Mind the time. Preschoolers' short attention spans probably can tolerate a 15- to 20-minute meeting. Teenagers can handle longer 30-minute meetings.

Tips for the team

To really make your family meetings effective, remember: The true bonding – and life lessons – happen when everyone gets involved. Slipping into a lecture mode simply won't be effective. Keep things kid-centered (and fair) with these ideas:

  • Invite kids to problem-solve. Whether it's sharing toys or letting the dog out, kids can often cook up their own solutions. And they're far more likely to follow through when they helped come up with the plan.
  • Use a 'talking stick.' Some experts also suggest rotating "leaders" for the meetings – and to give a "talking stick" to the person in charge. This could take the shape of a plastic hammer or other object. When someone wants to speak, he or she needs to be holding the stick. When they're done, he or she passes it to the next person (also a great lesson in taking turns!).
  • Follow-up with a fun activity. Pull out a board game, head out over to the bowling alley – or gang up for something else the family loves to do. It'll end things on a high note.

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