In today’s society, reasons to talk aren’t hard to find. But having time to talk -- well, that’s another story.

“Modern families are mobile, and children begin getting involved in extracurricular activities at young ages,” says Joyce Coleman, LCSW, manager of the department of clinical social work and chaplaincy at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Because there’s limited time for families to come together, it’s important to establish a weekly or biweekly meeting that nothing will conflict with.”

talkThe Many Uses of a Family Meeting
When you schedule a formal time to gather and talk as a family, your children will also be given an opportunity to learn many life lessons. “The teaching and learning opportunities are endless,” says Coleman. Here are a few that you will likely experience.

Solving disagreements. 
Conflicts can be handled during this time by providing an opportunity for involved parties to express their viewpoints and to be acknowledged. Even if parents ultimately make decisions the children disagree with, the children can still feel validated knowing their voices have been heard and considered.

Enhancing open communication.
Family meetings shouldn’t be reserved for only the big issues. Instead, families can use this time to discuss everyday decisions such as what items to include on the grocery list, what kind of pet to adopt or how to celebrate accomplishments. Family meetings can also be used as a time to discuss world events, perhaps discussing and calming fears that your children may be feeling because of what they’ve heard or seen on the news.

Sharing family values. 
Parents can use this time to establish and explain family values. Even young children can grasp simple concepts behind values and build upon those as they grow. Not only should parents deliver value messages, they should also use this opportunity to listen to what children have to say about their understanding of family values.

Problem solving. 
Children can learn about compromise and sacrifice by being involved in the problem-solving process. For example, parents may want to show children how they work out the family budget, or use the time to discuss scheduling conflicts.

Your First Meeting
With family schedules already changing as children return to school, fall is an excellent time to begin having regular family meetings.

The most difficult thing about your first family meeting may be finding the time. The key to this dilemma is making a commitment. Parents may need to explain to children that there are some things, such as basketball practice or dance lessons, that they make commitments to -- and family needs to be one of those things.

Once the family is gathered, you may want to start with some ground rules. These could include limiting the meeting to a certain amount of time, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to voice concerns and reminding children that parents have the final say in any decisions.


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