Life tends to get busy and with this mode of always being on-the-go, it can be easy to fall out of a routine. With kids that are over-scheduled, and parents with demanding jobs, it can feel like there is never enough time to enjoy each other’s company. If we aren’t mindful about engaging with one another on a day-to-day basis, we tend to get away from connecting with each other. That’s why establishing ongoing family rituals can be so important for maintaining a close bond. Unfortunately, family rituals are not something that happen on their own and require ongoing maintenance. However, the research shows the benefits are worth the effort!
A Journal of Family Psychology by the APA, shows that family rituals give your children a sense of security, identity, and belonging; all things that are important to their development. In addition to those benefits, this study has found that family routines and rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents' sense of personal identity, children's health, academic achievement, and stronger family relationships. Therefore, an effective, and evidence-based method to maintain a close family connection is through the use of family rituals.
Now you might be asking: what exactly are family rituals and how do we begin to include this into our daily life? There is no “right” answer for this question and it will be unique to your own family. While working with children and their families to increase connection and build a closer relationship, I have seen success with some of the following family rituals.
Good Morning Hugs and/or Kisses
There is something great to be said about having a family ritual that starts the day off positive and feeling loved. I always encourage families during the counseling process to have at least one family ritual in the morning to begin their day.
Book Before Bedtime
A personal favorite book of mine is In my Heart, written by Jo Witek. This book is about different feelings our heart experiences on a given day and it’s a great way to teach children about their emotions. Perhaps you could use a resource like this before bed to ask what is in their heart for the day. It can encourage your family to habitually feel comfortable talking about feelings.
After Dinner Walks
Getting active as a family has many benefits and could promote conversation that sponsors connection. Bonus if you have a family dog to include on the nightly walks.
Have each family member share one thing they are proud they did that day. This could possibly be done while eating dinner together as a family, or right before bed, when they can sit with those positive feelings as they fall asleep.
Have a family game night once a week or once a month. Schedule it in your calendar so the family has something planned to look forward to.
Have weekly themed dinners such as "Taco Tuesday" or "Favorite Wednesday" for which you cook a family member's favorite meal. Another popular one is having a pizza night where you make a homemade pizza and work as a family to pick the toppings that will be used. Giving the pizza a fun name can be a creative brainstorming moment.
Begin an inspirations whiteboard. Put one in a family common area and have everyone contribute an inspirational quote or encouraging message on an ongoing basis. This is one of my favorite rituals to share with families; it can be really fun and teaches your children how our thoughts can influence our emotions. For example, write on the board “you can do hard things.” Then when the child is confronted with something that is a fear or worry, he can think back on this encouraging thought, and feel brave in overcoming it. If your children are not at the age to write out inspirational quotes, encourage them to draw something that will make someone in their family smile or feel better.
This encourages family members to reflect on what they are thankful for and promotes the development of healthy thought patterns. You could set this up to be once a week and have the family read them on a monthly basis. A fun way to begin this ritual is to decorate a jar together. A good tip to encourage children about this is to bring up something good that happened that day and respond with “Wow, it sounds like that made you very happy. That would be a perfect thing to add to the gratitude jar.” Some families use the jar during the month of November and read what they are thankful for. This can be a wonderful ritual for the holiday season.
Group Dinner Prep
Setting the table is best done by assigning everyone a task and all working on this together. One person could get all the silverware while another gets out the napkins. It helps the family work together to complete a task.
Dessert after dinner once per week. Having a family bake together can be messy and fun. You can make this ritual “themed” when holidays are approaching (i.e., pumpkin flavored cake for Thanksgiving, heart-shaped brownies for Valentines, or Christmas cookies). This is also a great time to assign tasks and have the family work together to bake the dessert.
There is something stress relieving about coloring. It can help your children utilize healthy coping strategies to manage their emotions. Making this a weekend ritual can help children have something to look forward to.
Remember, the most important part of making a family ritual is choosing something which you will stick with. Use the rituals that are realistic for your family and something all will enjoy. The goal is to create shared moments as a family. Have fun and enjoy making family rituals a part of your own family life!
A great resource with additional rituals for families is I Love You Rituals, a book by Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D.