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Does your family seem to be running in different directions all the time? Do you feel as if you never have enough time to talk with or have fun with your children? Then family meetings just might be the answer for you.

A major symptom of troubled families is lack of effective communication. Family meetings can improve family communication by discussing problems and making an effort to resolve them while they still seem small. In addition, family members are able to share positive experiences, learn more about each other and have fun as a family unit.

Just what is a family meeting? It is a prearranged time that a family has agreed to spend together to talk about what’s happening in their lives. Family meetings might be rather structured in the beginning, until family members get used to the idea. Meetings can be moderated by just about any family member. Here are some tips for getting started:

— Hold family meetings on a regular basis. Once a week is great for most families but may seem too big a task in the beginning. The key is that the family decides when and where to hold the meetings. Decide the length of the meeting in advance; if you have young children, keep the meetings short.

— Don’t force anyone to attend. If one person in the family chooses not to participate, don’t force the issue. Eventually, that person will see that everyone else is enjoying the meeting and will probably choose to join the fun.

— Make time for family members to share their joys as well as their problems and concerns. If gripes are the only thing discussed during meetings, people will soon lose interest and not attend.

— Be sure to include fun activities for the whole family. Perhaps a bike ride, a walk in the park or a trip for an ice cream cone would be a good idea. Be sure that everyone has input or that you take turns doing things that each family member enjoys.

— Whenever possible, reach decisions by consensus where all family members are in agreement. This method of decision-making helps everyone feel like they have had input and are thus more likely to abide by the decision.

For encouraging discussion, there are many tools out there online and in stores to help facilitate family conversations. You can even each write some questions ahead of time on slips of paper and randomly draw them out. Focus on the important aspects of sharing and time together. Here are some other Extension resources that you may find helpful:

— Family Mealtime Conversation Starters by Age (Texas A&M): go.illinois.edu/Conversationstartersbyage

— Mealtime Conversation Cards (Iowa State): go.illinois.edu/Mealtimeconversationcards

— Money Conversation Starters for Parents and Children (University of Minnesota); go.illinois.edu/Moneyconversationswithkids.

For more information on family-life-related topics and programs, visit the University of Illinois Extension website at web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/ or contact Chelsey Byers at 217-333-7672 or clbyers@illinois.edu.