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How to Get Your Household to Run Itself

Having started my career in business, I now avoid formal business meetings like the plague.

But I love family meetings. In fact, I think they’re one of the most useful tools we have as parents. They’ve become a safe haven for me and my kids to voice our concerns and grievances, make big announcements, brainstorm solutions to problems we’re having at school or home, rally the support of family, and generally just have a little fun together.

If you’ve never had a family meeting, here’s my best advice:

  1. Make the first meeting 100 percent positive. If you’ve never had an official family meeting before, the first one is not the time to announce the 10 new chores for which your kids are now going to be held responsible, or to tell them you are getting a divorce. The idea is to introduce the concept of family meetings in a way that will make them excited for the next one.
  2. Similarly, always make sure family meetings are fun on the whole. I pack a lot into ours (you can only imagine), and most of what I’m looking to accomplish is usually not on my kids’ “fun” list. So I cleverly disguise my not-fun announcements by serving dessert during family meetings (in fact, we really only eat dessert at home on family meeting nights). I’m also very careful to start and end with fun agenda items (more on that below). Ratio is important: Positive agenda items must always outnumber negative ones —remember Barbara Fredrickson’s research suggesting that to maintain our happiness, we need three positive experiences for every negative one.
  3. Be consistent and predictable, so that family meetings start to run themselves. It would be too hard for me to have to schedule family meetings on top of everything else we have going on, but since we’re in the habit of doing our family meetings on Thursdays after dinner, they don’t require much planning. I do make an effort to keep our Thursday evenings free so that we’re actually home to do the meeting.

For seven more meeting tips and a downloadable meeting agenda form, see this post on my Raising Happiness blog at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.