Here are some helpful guidelines that will ensure your family meetings run smoothly and serve their intended purpose:
A) How often should you hold family meetings?
Most families find that sticking to a once a week or biweekly schedule works best, but you can also hold them more or less often depending on your needs. For many families (especially those with older kids) a weekly or biweekly meeting may be overkill, and can diminish their significance. Set aside a specific day each week to hold your family meeting. It should be consistent, so be sure to pick a day and time when you typically don’t have much going on. Allow for 20 to 30 minutes.
B) Make it enjoyable
Mix it with something fun. For example, you might order pizza or some other takeout during family meeting night. Or serve milk and cookies or popcorn and soda or some other treat. Then sit around and lead the meeting while everyone is eating. This will help sell your kids on the idea and make it less likely that they’ll see these sessions as something “cheesy” or “lame.” It also helps set a positive mood for the meeting. It provides a feel-good atmosphere and becomes something to look forward to.
C) Gather topics throughout the week
Create a topic jar or special notebook to keep in a designated area around the house. Let each person know that as issues come up throughout the week, they can write it down on a piece of paper and drop it into the jar (or record it in the notebook). Children often struggle to remember things they wanted to talk about that come up during the week, so this ensures all issues get addressed. It also provides plenty of content to discuss each week.
D) Choose a structure and style
You might designate a different “chairman” each time and conduct it just like a board meeting, giving that person authority to lead the discussion. Allowing kids to lead the meeting from time to time helps them feel empowered, as though they have an important voice in family dynamics. This also makes kids less likely to see it as a lecture session.
E) Type up an outline
Consider putting together a written agenda to hand out to each family member the day before. This gives each kid a chance to consider what they might like to say on each topic.
Or you can keep it entirely informal, with no structure whatsoever. Choose whichever style works for the personality of your family.
Other helpful tips for family meetings
Avoid the tendency to hold family meetings only when there’s an emergency. Many families use this method whenever a problem arises, but after two or three times, the family meeting atmosphere becomes tainted because it’s always revolving around a problem. Set them on a regular schedule so they fall under good times as well as bad.
On the same token, feel free to call an “emergency” family meeting to deal with something that arises.
Children need the freedom to speak their mind, even if what they say is difficult to hear. Create the rule that no one will get in trouble for anything they say during these sessions, so long as it’s honest and not meant to injure someone.
Consider calling it a family council or forum if family council sounds to formal.