The Importance of Family Rituals
The questions of my clients often provide me with ideas to write about. Here’s one that repeatedly comes up!
These days with video games, computer games, television, scheduled activities and sports, and the Internet, it seems that I am competing with so many different things for family time, which my seven year old child used to enjoy. What can I do to make what little family time we have more special and meaningful?
I would like to address your question by discussing the value of rituals and family traditions. First, let me explain what I mean by the word “ritual”. I am not talking about a religious ceremony or repetitive compulsive behavior. What I am talking about are predictable and consistent events that strengthen family bonds and help children to feel safe. Young children thrive on predictability and routine, providing them with a sense of comfort. In addition, this helps them to build a sense of trust in the world and their surroundings, which is so important for healthy psychological development.
If you want to start with one new ritual, I would recommend instituting a bedtime ritual. What a wonderful way to go off into dreamland! A bedtime ritual can include a warm bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a book or two, snuggling, and a special good night phrase, prayer, song, hug and/or kiss. Doing this same routine at the same time every night helps children to trust that some things can be relied upon consistently. It also provides children with something that they crave – special time alone with parents.
Regarding bedtime rituals, it is better to stay away from video and computer games, as well as television, which have all been shown to stimulate children, making it harder for them to fall asleep. Another ritual or tradition is to set aside family time during the week. This can either be time together as an entire family, or time alone with a child.
Whenever possible, this ritual should take place at the same day and time every week. This allows children to expect and look forward to a special time which includes activities of their choosing. Keep in mind that the activities need not be elaborate nor expensive. Uno cards, drawing, and using playdough are inexpensive and are favorites among young children. A more active child may simply enjoy listening to music and dancing, or turning the living room into an obstacle course. An older child might prefer a predictable nightly check-in conversation at bedtime.
Rituals do not need to be elaborate. In fact, the simpler, the better. If you keep the ritual simple and inexpensive, you will be more likely to engage in it when you are feeling tired, stressed out, or when money is tight. Rather than being an added stress, the ritual can then have a calming and soothing effect on you as well.
Rituals and traditions can be built into events that are already part of the daily routine. Rituals can be incorporated into getting ready for school, picking your child up from school, or making dinner. Examples include:
- While brushing teeth in the morning, sing and dance to the same familiar song.
- When picking your child up from school, create a special way you greet each other and share your favorite things that happened that day.
- Make one night during the week a special “backwards” meal, such as eating breakfast food, or eating dessert first!
As I write this column, I am filled with memories of rituals from my own childhood. This is another benefit of instituting rituals and traditions: They help to strengthen family bonds and create warm childhood memories.