What are your favorite childhood memories? Many are likely those traditions or rituals that have emotional significance to you, such as Saturday morning pancakes that your dad made or special traditions for your birthday. Having rituals and traditions in a family improves the bond within your family, as well as the quality of family life.
In the December 2002 issue of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Family Psychology, a review of the literature revealed that the benefits of family rituals far exceed the bonds developed; practicing rituals also supports children’s health, school performance, and a sense of belonging.
Why is it important to create rituals? Observing rituals in your family is one way to demonstrate your family’s beliefs and uniqueness. Don’t let your child’s hectic schedule of dance and piano lessons, basketball, or after-school play dates interfere with your “together time” and the rituals that you create. Rituals do not require great expenditures or the family with a Mother, Father, and 2.5 children. Rituals have great value regardless of the makeup of your family and leaves an emotional imprint within your family. Below are examples of rituals practiced by many families that may help you think of others for your own:
- Sunday Family Dinner: Each Sunday night our family enjoys a “get ready for the week dinner.” We have a special meal together and discuss our goals or special activities for the week.
- Family Night: Thursday night is designated as family night at our home. Parents come home early, and one family member chooses the activity for the evening.
- Special Time: Each evening before bedtime, devote special time with each child. It may only be five minutes, but each knows this is his/her time alone with their parent.
- Snuggle Time: Before my child leaves for school, we have snuggle time while reading a story.
- Charitable Activity: Each Thanksgiving, our family serves dinner at a local homeless shelter.
- Birthday Treats: On each person’s birthday in our family, the birthday person selects the menu for the day and sits in the special seat at the table.
- Potty Bowl: Every Thanksgiving, my husband’s family played football with the neighborhood teens. The winner of the game was awarded the trophy — a potty bowl lid.
- Family Vacation: When I was a child, I remember our family vacations. We didn’t travel to exotic places, but we camped-out in a tent at a local state park. These annual experiences probably shaped my understanding of family more than anything else.
- Right of Passage: We have four sons. When each boy turned 12-years-of-age, he and his dad went camping together - just the two of them. Then, the son was awarded a pocket knife to symbolize his growth over the last 12 years.
- First Day of School Pictures: On the first day of school, take a picture of your children and then compare these pictures each year.
The great thing about family rituals is that they are mobile. If you relocate to another city, carry them with you. This will help your children adjust to their new home. Take time this week to create new rituals to help build a healthy, secure environment for your children.
(By Dr. Jane Hannah, Assistant Head of School for Academics and Programs)