Opening the lines of communication

As parents we often find fault with ourselves, and with the prospect of a New Year, tell ourselves that this year will be different: I will be more patient. I will spend more quality time with the kids. I will be a better parent.
As sincere as our intentions might be, a plan is needed to succeed in accomplishing such lofty goals. 
We all have struggles with our children. We have our day to day spats, but sometimes the same issue becomes a repeated bone of contention. So often we find ourselves entering into the same fight (over chores, discipline, money, personal time, family expectation…) over and over. The more frustrated we feel, the more unreasonable we become, the less likely we are to reach an acceptable compromise. Round and round we go in a circular dance that goes nowhere.
A change in our approach to the problem is required.
Family meetings are a most useful tool in raising a family. They provide an opportunity to discuss allocation of responsibility, plan family activities, and resolve conflict. Having a planned agenda helps to stay focused on the matter at hand, and can be created through the week as issues arise. Topics might include chores, menu planning, discipline, upcoming events and appointments, planning time together as a family, use of television and computer, or anything important in the life of your family.
One of my biggest frustrations was getting the kids to follow through with their chores. Creating a job chart made the expectations for each family member clear and was useful to a certain extent. Finally, we allowed the children to decide among themselves if they would rather rotate setting and clearing the table, doing the dishes, cleaning the counter and sweeping the floor, or choose one job to keep as theirs for the week, or month (or years as it turned out in our case). If one member of the family did not follow through with their obligations, it bollixed up the whole routine. If privileges were lost as a result, in the next meeting the others had a say about that: “How can I do my job if he doesn’t do his?” or “If you don’t do your share, someone else has to do it and that’s not fair” They responded to pressure placed on them by their siblings more readily than to my incessant nagging.
Menu planning allows each person to have a say in what kinds of things will be for dinner in the coming week. You might let everyone have their pick one night a week, or you may decide to plan by consensus. Choosing what they have for dinner is not only a privilege, it is a responsibility, and healthy choices need to be made. This is where your guidance comes in: “Would you rather have beans or carrots?”
When kids have a say in things that are important to them, satisfactory compromises can be more easily reached. Even children as young as three years old are able to participate in these kinds of conversations if they are presented in terms of simple choices.
During the week, various issues arise between siblings: bullying, territorial disputes, impact of one not doing his or her job. When the kids participate in the decisions regarding consequences and conflict resolution, they begin learning to consider how their actions affect others.
So much of the everyday conflict inherent in raising kids can be avoided by discussing issues during a time when we are not in the middle of a heated argument. Letting the children participate in deciding how family matters are resolved allows them to see that they are an integral part of the family unit, and that it is important for us to work together. Having a time set aside to bring all concerned in on the decision making process, clarifies expectations, improves communication, and unites the family in a common purpose. -RDW (1-7-2010)

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