Routines and Rituals

When working with parents of toddlers and preschoolers, I talk a lot about the benefits of daily routines. Today I want to look at the difference between the routines of everyday life and the rituals of the year.

Routines Rituals
When: Daily or Weekly. Everyday life. When: Holidays, Seasons, Life Events
What: Predictable, reliable, easy to learn and to do What: Special, memorable. Specific to family / culture
How they make kids feel: Safe, competent How they make kids feel: Special, loved
Examples:
·       How they wake up in the morning
·       How you say goodbye when you go to work or they go to school
·       How you reunite and share your day
·       Mealtimes – Do you eat together?
·       Bedtime Routine
Examples:
·       Birthdays
·       Holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, religious and cultural holidays
·       Life events: first day of school, graduation, tooth fairy, etc.
Hint from an experienced parent: Keep it short and simple! Hint from an experienced parent: Make it special, but not too elaborate or expensive. It needs to be easy to repeat if you want it to be a tradition.
How you know a routine is working for your family: It makes everyone’s life calmer and more enjoyable. You can enjoy it too! How you know a ritual is working for your family: It feels special, and meaningful and fun to you to. If you’re overwhelmed with stress trying to do something, think about how to simplify it to focus on what’s important to you.

When your child is young, it’s a great time to think about what you want your family rituals to be around holidays and special occasions. If there are traditions from your family of origin or group of friends that work for you, definitely keep doing them. But, if there are traditions that just exhaust or frustrate you, then having a new child in your life is a great excuse to get out of those activities!

Think about what rituals you would enjoy. What would feed special to you? What would be fun for you? What lessons do you want your child to learn about your family values from the way you celebrate holidays? When your child is one year old, test some out. When they’re two years old, repeat the ones that you liked, but drop the rest, and try something new. When they’re three or four years old, experiment some more. By the time they’re five years old, they’ll start noticing and remembering traditions, so it’s nice if you’ve found some good “keepers” by then.

When you do these rituals, reinforce their power by reminding your child that they are traditions: “Every year, you get to open one present on Christmas Eve” or “remember, last year when you were four, you found four balloons in the house – how many do you think you’ll find this year?” Tell them why you do those traditions: “I give you a book every year for your birthday because my dad gave me a book for my birthday every year” or “We always volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. day because it’s important to work to make the world a better place.”

It’s OK if your traditions are different from their friend’s family! When your child says “How come my friend does this and we don’t” you can explain your family culture and how you make the choices that are right for you.

Learn more about daily routines here and specifically about sleep-related routines here.

Read more about birthday rituals here and more about using rituals to connect your child to his/her culture and heritage here.

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