Children love ritual. Repetition, the comfort of belonging, the sense of wonder, magic, and celebration -- all create a bonding experience that nurtures both kids and parents, and holds families together.
Why do we need rituals?
It's primal. They help us move emotionally from one place to another; they ease pain, acknowledge growth, and create connection.
Rituals are invaluable to families, as most parents discover. Daily rituals like bedtime stories and goodbye hugs make separations easier and provide comfort and security. Traditions like taking a picture on the front steps on the first day of school and letting kids stay up till midnight on New Year's Eve help children integrate the changes of the year.
In a secular culture, many parents who don't relate to organized religion find that rituals and traditions give the sense of meaning and anchoring they seek. And all rituals reinforce values and create connection.
Studies show that happy families not only have many treasured traditions, they constantly evolve new ones that help them find their way through the inevitable changes of growing up, as well as create warm bonds and a sense of security.
"So how do we start traditions?"
Your family already has its own traditions, from Sunday morning pancakes to observing holidays in a certain way. The way you celebrate birthdays, mark the passing of pet or observe a special day, the way you say goodbye to each other every morning or shop for fall clothes each school year; all are the stuff of which memories are made.
"Ok, but how do I create traditions that nurture my kids?"
Creating new traditions that work for your family is a simple matter. Try something new, and if you like it, repeat it. Then begin to talk about it and look forward to it with the whole family. Eventually, that tradition will take on a life of its own and will become a sustaining part of your family's culture.
"And what about rituals? Are they different?"
Let's think of rituals as a tradition carried out in a more sacred way, usually the same way every time. Singing the Sabbath blessings or saying Grace before meals are obvious examples, but so is singing Happy Birthday and blowing out candles. It may not seem that "Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!" is sacred, but all repetitious chants are essentially prayers, satisfying a primal human need.
Most rituals use either the lighting of candles or the repetition of a phrase or song as an invocation, or a beginning. Sometimes that's all there is to them, as in the case of a particular goodbye saying. Other rituals, like going around the table at Thanksgiving to say what we're thankful for, have "content." And virtually all have a closing, signaling that sacred space is over and we return to daily life, as when the birthday candles are blown out, or we say "Amen" at the end of a prayer.
You can find lists of rituals and traditions that nurture family connection but don't hesitate to create your own. You'll know when they feel right.
Dr. Laura Markham