Just like our Monday family night, we have tried to establish a number of family rituals with our children. Many of them revolve around holidays. For example, we always decorate our home for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. We always watch the movie Darby O'Gill and the Little People on St. Patrick's Day. On Halloween, we have always made Dinner in a Pumpkin for dinner. And on Christmas Eve, we deliver Sub for Santa gifts for our local United Way and then after dinner we get dressed in new pajamas and read the Christmas story.
Our sense has been that family rituals are important in the lives of children. They bring stability and predictability that helps children feel secure in their family. Children also like structure and routine (even though they may rebel as teenagers or tweens). We also have found that we can teach values and principles through rituals (like delivering gifts on Christmas Eve teaches the importance of giving, not just getting).
A 2007 study published in the journal Infants and Young Children offered evidence that family routines and rituals have positive impacts on language develop, social skills development and academic achievement.
As our children have grown, it has been fun to see how much these traditions and rituals really mean to them. And as they have started their own families, some of the rituals that were important to them have found their way into the lives of our grandchildren as their parents create their own family rituals.
Creating Family RitualsIf you feel that some new or lost family rituals need to be a part of your family, consider these thoughts for identifying potential traditions or rituals.
- What family activities have been memorable? Are there some favorite vacations, summer activities, dinners or day trips that family members have enjoyed? These might form the foundations for a family ritual. We happened onto the Dinner in a Pumpkin idea years ago and the following Halloween, the kids asked about having it again. Because it was a family favorite, it developed into a tradition.
- Did you grow up with some traditions? Like our family, some of the traditions you enjoyed as a child will be things you consider establishing in your own family. For example, we discovered almost by accident years ago that taking the kids to an indoor swimming pool on the afternoon of Christmas Eve helped them fall asleep a little earlier that evening. Now our daughter takes her children swimming every Christmas Eve as well.
- What value or principle could your family benefit from implementing? If you think your family could use to learn a good principle like service, unselfishness, good will, or trusting, think of a ritual that will help you teach the principle. Offering to take the family to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a local homeless shelter might be a good annual family tradition if you are hoping to teach gratitude or the need to help others less fortunate.
- Are there things you do regularly that help you feel close to the family? Many family rituals involve family meals, bedtimes or weekends. Rituals can be common, everyday activities that are repeated because they are important. Eating dinner together can be a good ritual. A song or a story before bedtime or a Sunday morning breakfast can have all the same benefits as more elaborate or less frequent rituals. Don't underestimate these smaller but equally significant events and routines.
Rituals in a family can be a major source of security and comfort for children and create positive childhood memories for the entire family and can even last for generations. Taking time to create and maintain family traditions and rituals is a worthwhile effort for every family.