Regular meetings are a very effective and efficient way to promote healthy family communication. Below is a structure that has worked well for many families. Feel free to pick and choose what you like, and add more of your own ideas.
1) Post the date of the next meeting in writing on the fridge or family calendar, along with a blank agenda sheet and pencil so everyone can write down what they want to talk about as they think of it.
2) Write fun things on the agenda, like Decide family fun activity for next Saturday afternoon or Choose Sunday brunch restaurant. Also write actual or anticipated problems, such as Floor was not vacuumed this week or Garage needs to be organized before winter.
1) Gather together promptly at the designated time. Bring the agenda, as well as a blank pad of paper and a pen for taking notes.
2) For the first round, ask everyone to share something positive -- something that happened since the last meeting that they enjoyed, something they liked hearing and who said it, or something they are proud of themselves for.
3) Now tackle the issues on the agenda, one at a time, using the following format. The comments in italics are examples of responses so you can hear the process in action.
a) The person who added the item to the agenda explains their concern.
The carpet is dirty, and I am embarrassed to have friends over here.
b) One at a time, other family members speak about their concerns.
Our vacuum is too heavy and it's hard for me to carry it in from the garage.
I don't like vacuuming.
I want the house to look nice, too.
I don't like nagging people until they do it.
c) Brainstorm lots of solutions that might meet satisfy everyone's concerns. No censoring at this stage of the game -- just write them all down.
Get rid of our carpeting.
Hire a housecleaning service.
Flip a coin each week to see who does the vacuuming.
Make a chart so everyone takes a turn in a month.
Make it a paying job.
Buy a Roomba so no one has to vacuum anymore.
I like to vacuum - how about if we trade jobs?
d) When the ideas start to slow down, ask if everyone is ready to discuss options. Here's where you start eliminating anything that is not workable or does not satisfy everyone's concerns.
A housecleaner would cost over $100, and we can't fit that in our budget right now.
But if we flip a coin, I could be stuck doing it two times in a row!
Getting rid of the carpet is not going to happen for a few years.
e) By now, your list has dwindled significantly. Odds are good that one of the remaining solutions will work.
Okay, let's trade our jobs then. I'll take over vacuuming,and you take over cleaning the cat box.
f) Double check to make sure everyone is willing to experiment with this option to see if it works.
Is everybody willing to try this for a week until our next meeting to see how it goes?
g) Discuss how you will know it's working, and what will happen if it doesn't. Write this down very clearly.
So if the floor or the catbox are still dirty on Saturday morning, we'll know that this plan didn't work. We can use your allowance to pay somebody else to take care of it right away, and we'll make a new plan at our Saturday afternoon meeting.
4) After you've tackled the problems, apply the same process to the fun stuff:
I want pancakes Sunday.
I want a place that's not too noisy.
I want a buffet.
Brainstorm restaurant options.
Eliminate those that don't satisfy all concerns.
Choose from the remaining possibilities.
Write the time and destination on the family calendar.
5) Read the meeting notes out loud, then pass the paper around and have everyone sign off of the agreements. This is not so you can wave it in someone's face later, it's to make sure everyone is clear on what they are agreeing to. This way no reminders will be necessary, and there won't be any arguments over selective memory issues. Keep the paper where it can easily be referred to.
So that's it! It may seem like a lot when you read it at first, but it's actually pretty simple and logical. This process equips your children with a powerful conflict resolution strategy that will serve them well throughout their lives - but you don't need to announce that! Just let the magic soak in naturally over time. It takes all the fun out of it if they think they are being taught a lesson.