Holding regular family decision-making councils is a great way to strengthen family bonds and increase family unity. Because every member is involved in family issues and participates in resolving conflicts, children learn skills for life, including communication, problem solving, planning, self-discipline, and respect for others. Family members are encouraged to consider many options as possible solutions to problems, make decisions based on available information, and accept the consequences of their decisions.
If you recognize areas in which your family could improve, consider family decision-making councils as a possible solution. If your family is currently running smoothly, you could probably make family councils a habit now to prepare for rough times, which will surely come. The following are some ideas of how you can make family decision-making councils a successful part of your family routine.
1 . Decide how you want the councils to work
Decide where the meeting will be held, how often, what types of things you will discuss, who will lead the discussions, how long meetings will last, what the rules of the meeting will be and how you will make sure everyone’s concerns are heard and addressed. Make a rule that each person will be able to share their opinions without being interrupted. Do not allow fighting. Deciding ahead of time how your family councils will be conducted and organized will give the family members confidence, security and will ensure that the meetings run smoothly.
2. Follow a decision-making process rather than voting
Realistically, your family can’t be conducted as a pure democracy. Imagine all of your children banding together to vote for increased allowance, later bedtimes and candy for every meal. Instead, place the issues on the table and take suggestions regarding how they might be resolved. Try to take into account everyone’s ideas and suggestions, but remember that you are responsible for the final decision. As a parent, your decision has to take into account everyone’s well-being and safety, and you cannot allow your children to make choices that will do them harm.
3. Choose your words carefully
Make sure your children understand that allowing them to have input into family issues does not mean that they can now make all of their own decisions. When it comes to family rules and responsibilities, your children cannot be given the option of whether or not to obey, participate or get the job done. Carefully word these issues so your children don't get the idea they have no limits as to what they can do.
4. Be sure to follow up on decisions made in other councils
In order to give your family a sense that the decisions made during these family councils are serious and important, you need to consistently discuss how things are going. If, for example, you decided that each child had a responsibility to get their homework done without being asked, you need to return to this issue and find out whether or not this is happening. You may need to reevaluate the decision and consider other options. Whatever the case, you shouldn’t leave the completion of tasks and responsibilities to chance.
5. Use the council as a time to discuss schedules and upcoming events
Spending a little time each week discussing what each family member has going on will produce interest in each other's activities and help to avoid scheduling conflicts. Consider filling out a family calendar. Have everyone write in what they are doing each day for the whole week. Decide what activities everyone will attend. Figure out when the next council will be held. Coordinating in these ways will ensure no one is left out when the family starts scrambling to get everything done.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.