Tag Archives: traditions

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
·       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
·       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.

Connect your Child with their Cultural Identity

Identifying your culture and cultural values

If you do an internet search on connecting children to their cultural identity, you’ll mostly find articles for adoptive parents connecting their child to a culture of origin that is different from that of the parents. You’ll find a handful of articles for parents who are part of a religious or ethnic minority group. There is little about how people from any background might do it.

I think people who view themselves as part of “mainstream America” may often not think of themselves as having a cultural identity. I have heard people, when asked their  identity, respond “umm…. white?? American?? I don’t really have a cultural identity.”

But clearly, we are shaped by our background. I have a friend who is my age, Caucasian like me, and “American.” But I was raised in a church-going, military family of four in Wyoming. She was an only child raised by a liberal single mom in Berkeley in the early 70’s. So although that friend and I have a lot of common from our current perspectives, we’ve certainly run across times when we have very different assumptions about ‘how the world works’ and ‘how things are done.’

And that’s what defines cultural identity: what are those unconscious assumptions about big picture ideas like how the world works, what is our role in the community, and the significance of the family. It’s also the little things: when we get up in the morning, when we eat dinner, what we eat. Sometimes you don’t understand something is your culture until you encounter a different culture. Again, it’s sometimes in the little things: at my family’s holiday meals, the cook worked hard to get everything to the table hot and at the peak of perfection – to wait to eat it would have been horribly rude. In college, when I visited friends, I discovered (after some shocked looks sent my way) that in other families, it is horribly rude to start eating before everyone (including the cook) is seated.

Like a fish learning to describe water, the first step of connecting your child to a cultural identity may be for you to figure out what that identity is!

Here are topics you may want to think about:

  • What is your cultural background?
  • How might that be the same or different from other people in your child’s community?
  • What are some of cultural values that resonate with you? Are there values or attitudes you would like to leave behind?
  • What things in your life have helped you connect to your cultural identity?
  • What traditions or rituals do you want to continue to follow?

Sometimes talking with other people about their culture, or reading books from diverse cultures, can help you to understand your own better. I would recommend Parenting without Borders as a great introduction to other cultures’ approaches to parenting.

Beginning to talk about culture

We don’t have to wait till children are “old enough” to understand religion and culture to begin talking about it. Like everything else in their lives, from food to books to dressing themselves, we talk from the beginning about all the things they experience, and trust that their understanding of it will grow and deepen as they get older.

Young children are very concrete. They learn through hands-on experience, and through observing the important people in their lives. They don’t really learn through abstract conversations about abstract ideas. They also learn through repetition, so as you begin to think about what parts of your cultural identity and values you want to reinforce, keep that in mind.

Culture: Routines, Rituals, and Traditions

For a toddler, life often seems unpredictable and random. Routines create a reassuring sense of structure in a child’s life – the more they know what is coming next, the more manageable life seems for them. They appreciate the sense gained from daily routines that ‘this is how my family does things.’ Ritual and traditions take that to the next level: ‘this is how my people do things and how we have done things for a very long time’. For example, from annual holiday traditions, they gain a sense of how time passes, bringing with it lots of change, but also retaining some important cores.

Some places to consider adding rituals or traditions:

  • Daily: How do you begin your days together? What are mealtimes like? What is the typical rhythm of the day? What’s the bedtime routine?
  • Weekly: Could you do “family date nights”? Weekly dinners with extended family?
  • Holidays: Which do you celebrate? How do you celebrate? What are the special decorations? Foods? Gifts?
  • Special occasions: Does the tooth fairy come to your house? What do you do for birthdays? Weddings?
  • Other family traditions: Do you have nicknames or family in-jokes or songs? Stories about the funny quirks of relatives?

Some ways to include cultural identity in your child’s life:

  • Tell stories. Talk about your childhood, how your family did things, about their grandparents’ childhoods, and so on.
  • Read books about your culture, listen to ethnic music or the music your parents played/sang when you were young, eat foods that were traditional where you were raised. (That’s Jello salad and snickerdoodle cookies for me!)
  • Learn the language of your culture. (Or share with your children the regional dialect of English that you were raised with.)
  • Go to religious services or cultural festivals.
  • Make scrapbooks with information about your family’s history: a family tree, photographs, documents of your family’s journey

Learn more: www.growparenting.com/pages/blog_files/Building-Cultural-Identity.php