If a more cohesive, less chaotic family life is among your goals for the new year, family meetings may be the means for accomplishing just that.

Regularly scheduled family meetings provide an opportunity for every family member to be heard and to be held accountable. They are a time to discuss family rules, outline responsibilities around the home, plan vacations, coordinate schedules, negotiate allowances, address complaints and settle disagreements.

By providing a safe, contained environment for expressing ideas, opinions and complaints and for solving problems together, they help children develop a sense of fairness, teamwork, respect for others’ ideas and self-esteem.

Holding regular meetings where grievances and problems are handled fairly and openly also encourages family members to wait until meetings to deal with issues that arise throughout the week — greatly reducing daily arguing and ensuring reasonable resolutions.

The key to successful family meetings is consistency. Ideally, they are held at the same time each week. That way, children come to trust there will be a time when they can get their issues addressed.

Family meetings can last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the age of your children and the matters needing attention, and incorporate the tools used in any other business meeting, including an agenda, minutes and required attendance.

Before you begin, determine the ground rules for your family meetings. One important rule for virtually all families is that when one person is talking, everyone else listens until that family member is finished. Also, even though input will be sought from all family members, parents will be in charge of family meetings and will cast deciding votes.

Once you know the ground rules for your family, introduce the concept to your children, explaining that regular family meetings will provide an opportunity for them to voice their opinions and ideas and have a part in family decisions.

You will also benefit from purchasing a notebook designated as the family meeting book. You can use it to add agenda items as they arise during the week as well as to record the minutes, including family decisions and agreements, of each meeting. Over time, you’ll likely come to value these notebooks as keepsake reminders of earlier days with your children.

It’s best not to plan the first meeting to solve a family crisis. Instead, use the initial meetings to build a positive foundation for more difficult times ahead. Also, try to end each meeting on a high note with treats or favorite family games.

Patience will be your best ally as you begin holding family meetings with your children. Don’t be discouraged if your family functioning doesn’t improve within a couple weeks. It can take several months for you to build efficacy and for children to build trust in the process.

With your persistence and consistency, you’ll come to view family meetings as a wonderful, easy tool for minimizing chaos and increasing cooperation. By next year at this time, you’ll likely find your household is more organized, your children have a better sense of family values and expectations and all family members have greater respect for each other.

For a copy of The Family Meeting, A Manual for Successful Family Meetings, contact Jackie Carl at Family & Children’s Center at 608-788-6322.

As published in the January 2006 Edition of the Holmen Courier and Onalaska Community Life.