Bedtime stories, Sunday dinners, and holding hands before meals—these simple routines are warm and enjoyable, but research also emphasizes their importance in child development. Rituals are experiences that families look forward to doing together. A ritual is any repeated, shared activity that has meaning and is rewarding for family members. Unlike rituals, routines are purely instrumental rather than symbolic. Routines are activities family members must do rather than activities that they want to do.
Meg Cox, expert on rituals and author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Rituals for Holidays and Every Day, believes that “a ritual is anything, big or small, that families perform together deliberately, providing there is repetition or some dramatic flourish that elevates the activity above the ordinary grind,” she writes. “Even simple activities can be transformed into satisfying and memorable rituals, such as singing a certain song whenever you give your child medicine, or always declaring an evening study break for hot cocoa on winter weeknights.”
William J. Doherty, professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota and the author of The Intentional Family adds, “Children are natural ritualists. They crave connection, and love predictability. Family rituals give children a sense of steady love and connection, and give order to their lives.”
Rituals Add Richness and Meaning to Life
Here are more reasons that explain why rituals are important:
- Rituals Celebrate Closeness: Studies have shown that the kids who are best equipped to face the challenges of life and stay centered are those who feel close to their families. Closeness can come from the routine reassurances and shared experiences found in everyday rituals. Rituals celebrate commonality, connection, and belonging.
- Rituals are Life Road Maps: Rituals help us keep track of where we come from and who we are, which is significant for children forming their identities. When children have a sense of where they come from, they have a better sense of where they are going. Rituals also help children learn what to expect from their environment and how to understand the world around them.
- Rituals Foster Feelings of Competence: Knowing what to do and being able to predict what comes next helps young children feel competent. Competence is key to emotional well-being and nurtures self-esteem. Meg Cox says rituals do many good things for children. Rituals help children navigate change, and learn values and practical skills. They also help children solve problems, heal from loss or trauma, generate wonderful memories, and much more.
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How to Create Your Own Family Rituals
If you are inspired but unsure of how to start rituals for your family, here are some ideas to use as a springboard:
- Snack with Your Pack: If you are like many families today and can’t swing family dinners seven nights a week, try then for breakfast together, or snacks in the evening.
- Recognition Night: A fun way to celebrate your child’s achievements in or out of the classroom is to serve an honoree dinner. Serve the meal on a special plate reserved for the occasion. Include your child’s favorite foods.
- Family Time: Designate one night a week as a time for family members to connect, interact, and communicate. Make it fun! One week you could play board games. Another week, rent a movie and watch it, with popcorn and candy. Have a cooking night where family members plan the meal and help cook it as a team.
- Surprise! Hold an “unbirthday” party where you unexpectedly celebrate your child with their favorite meal, cake, and small tokens of affection.
Sure, grand annual events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays, are important family rituals. But many rituals. are not holiday bound and can sweeten life year round. The everyday rituals are the glue that binds families together.
Meg Cox concludes that while the pandemic has been scary and outside our control, rituals are helpful to all because they are things we can count on. Rituals provide a regularity and rhythm that can be comforting. Bedtimes still happen, stuffed animals are still there, maybe a sweet little song is sung at bath or nap time. These small rituals all help children feel secure.
Children Love Rituals
Children will delight in rituals, look forward to them, learn from them, and feel comforted and grounded by their constancy. Positive family rituals leave indelible imprints on children’s minds, and help children form treasured memories that will likely be passed on from generation to generation. Ordinary activities can become special if we infuse them with some magic and inventiveness. Rituals are keepsakes that live in our hearts. What family keepsakes are you creating for your children?
Dawn Marie Barhyte is a widely published author with over 100 articles to her credit. A former early childhood educator and co-director, Dawn continues to touch the lives of families through her writing. She lives and works in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY with her beloved husband and rescue chihuahua dachshund.
Other articles by Dawn Marie Barhyte
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