This is a Guest Post by Rebecca Eanes, Author of “Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide.”
The loving rituals and family traditions we experienced as children hold a special place in our hearts. Some of our fondest childhood memories are borne out of the traditions and rituals our parents upheld, and our children’s memories are likewise being made with every book, board game, vacation, or celebration. Family traditions and rituals create structure, stability, a sense of familiarity and safety, all things that are important for children, particularly young children. Daily rituals provide predictable moments throughout each day that we be present with our loved ones and connect, while our bigger traditions serve to weave a single thread of happy memories through our individual stories, tying our hearts together.
I think of rituals as the loving daily habits we perform. They provide us connection points throughout the day – a short pause to focus on the ones we love. Here are some ideas for daily rituals that establish bonds.
This little morning ritual might simply include a smile and an encouraging word, such as “Good morning! I’m so happy to see your sweet face!” or a hug with a prayer for the day prayed over them. Tailor it to your unique family, of course, but the idea is that each morning starts with a few moments of focused attention and love.
Some families like to gather around the table every morning for breakfast. Some of us grab cereal bars on the way out the door. If you have a family that likes to gather together in the morning to eat, you’re already performing a bonding ritual. Consider adding a questions jar to draw from to spark conversation or adding light music in the background.
Afternoon Nap Routine
A consistent calming ritual can help your child transition to sleep in the afternoon. Begin a wind-down ritual about 20 minutes before nap time. Change her into pajamas to signal it’s time for sleep. Give her a full belly and some cuddles, and she should be off to sleep soon. You may want to incorporate softly playing music, a white noise machine, a favorited stuffed toy, or a rocking chair for gentle rocking to sleep. This is a bond-building ritual because it’s 20-30 minutes of focused time spent loving on your child.
If your children are school-aged, you may notice they scatter when they get home from school. Evenings are often hectic for families, but taking 15 minutes to gather together after school for a light snack, tea, and conversation will help solidify your family connection. If this is not a convenient time, perhaps the kids are in after-care or elsewhere, this short ritual can be adapted to any time of day. Perhaps before dinner or bath time is a good time to gather for your family.
One-on-one Time at Bedtime
In my house, we call this “special time” and I am surprised by how much my children crave this individual attention because until very recently, I was with them all day, every day! I created this habit with the start of them attending school to build in some special time to hear about their days where they don’t have to talk over each other or be interrupted. I initially set it at 10 minutes per child but we often talk beyond that because children really do open up their hearts during this time. If they don’t have much to talk about, which is rare, I ask them three questions. “Tell me something good that happened today.” “Is there anything you’re worried about or want to ask?” “Tell me one of your dreams or goals in life.”
You may choose to uphold some of the traditions you grew up with or create all new traditions tailored to your unique family needs. I suggest that when creating your family traditions, start simple. In busy families where traditions are being newly upheld, it’s more likely to stick if it’s not too complicated or difficult to plan. Add in traditions that uphold your family values, such as volunteering regularly for a charity.
A weekly family game night with a classic board game or deck of cards is a fun tradition that’s great for laughs. Movie night is another idea, whether at the theater or watching a rental a home, there is something about gathering together with a bowl of popcorn that brings us joy. A weekly visit to the park for a leisurely stroll or a more adventurous hike might suit your family well, or attending a Sunday worship service may be part of your family story.
Make holidays extra special in your own unique way. Most months include a holiday or a family member’s birthday, so there’s almost always something to celebrate. Try eating green pancakes on St. Patrick’s Day or covering your child’s bedroom floor with glowing balloons on his birthday. Your family might fancy a monthly camping trip or a parent/child date night. Visit extended family once a month for a potluck dinner or go fishing together on the first Saturday of the month.
Create seasonal traditions such as pumpkin carving or a New Year’s Eve bash. Yearly family reunions and summer vacations are a staple in many childhoods. Take the same family photo every year, and do the same with the kids at the beginning of the school year. Take an annual trip to a ski resort or sight-seeing road trip with no particular destination.
The traditions and rituals you uphold today are serving to connect your hearts together as family. They provide a feeling of belonging, a need we all long for in our lives. Making time today for these activities may seem like an added box to be ticked off on your list, but the memories will live happily in your children’s minds for many years to come.
Rebecca Eanes is the founder of www.positive-parents.org, creator of the popular Facebook page Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond, contributing editor to Creative Child and Baby Maternity Magazines, and author of The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting. In her new book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Rebecca shares her hard-won insights on giving up the conventional parenting paradigm to reconnect heart to heart with her children.