Among these five family rituals, is your favorite one on the list?
Is your favorite family ritual the family dinner, trips to the grocery store, bedtime routines, family movie night, or family meetings?
As parents we try to structure our family time together to provide love and connection. There are certain family rituals that are a must for happy, well-adjusted children and happy parents.
Family dinners were my favorite family ritual.
My favorite family ritual was the family dinner. I loved them, becasue it brought us all together at the end of our busy days and we could talk about our day and decompress. My granddaughter already has the habit of asking everyone at our Sunday evening family meals together, “How was your good day?” She goes around the table and lets everyone tell the best thing about their day. Her parents already instilled this lovely pearl of a habit into her young life.
When my children were young, family dinners in our home allowed children to talk about their school day, any problems they encountered, any celebrations. I remember letting everyone have a chance to share something about their day, but my daughter Laura remembers mom and dad unloading on each other about the trials of their workday at the hospital. Laura remembers she and her siblings learning to wait patiently until we were through, and then they could share. (Oh, well.)
Actually, it is the sitting down together and eating a meal that is important. No TV or videos, and no cell phones. I was lucky that my husband cooked most of our meals and they were generally nutritious. Our children grew up eating pretty much everything.
Consuming food together is nearly sacred in many cultures. Try to think of your family dinner in that way – a means of connecting and sharing your common goals, values, and concerns. It is not just dinner. Children who participate in family dinners have been shown to make better grades, have larger vocabularies, and higher self-esteem. They have less anxiety, are less likely to use cigarettes and drugs, less likely to get pregnant, and less likely to commit suicide. Wow.
A recent systematic analysis of several studies showed the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of academic achievement and was associated with fewer behavioral problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports!
When older children resist sitting down together at the family dinner, it may be a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes their stress interferes with their ability to paricipate. Please see my blog post on the signs of stress in children.
Family trips to the grocery store can be fun for children.
Another great family ritual for us was having daddy take the kids to the grocery store, all together. This was his ritual with them, always without me. At the small Jamail’s store in Houston, they tasted fruits and cheeses, made friends with the meat and fish man, and generally came home with stories to tell about the happy experience. Were there too many sweet cereals bought in the process? Maybe so, but it was a fun trip for them all.
Children learn about nutritious foods when shopping for groceries with their parents. Parents can teach them about the food groups, the importance of fruits and vegetables, and other things about nutrition by strolling through the store and commenting on which foods are nutritious and why.
Bedtime routines are crucial family rituals for children.
An important family fitual is the bedtime routine. This was my personal favorite part of the day – when I was home. Baths, brush teeth, and books were a welcome respite to my hectic NICU days. We were fortunate that all three of ours loved reading books at night before bed. My husband read “The Hobbit” to David in bits and pieces over many nights.
Children who follow bedtime routines are more likely to go to sleep earlier, take less time falling asleep, sleep longer, and wake up less during the night. When kids are small, of course, they want to sit in your lap and be read to. If they can pick out the book, they feel some sense of control, and it is normal for little ones to want to hear the same story repeatedly. How many times can you read Eric Carl’s “Brown Bear” or “The Mixed-Up Chameleon” over and over again? As many as they desire!
My husband loved to read out loud the crazy poems from “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Bedtime routines teach your child self-care and lay the ground for working memory, attention, and other cognitive skills. They also foster parent-child bonding. Bedtime reading is your way of exposing your children to the love of books, to great stories, and to develop a closeness and connection to you that they will never forget.
Family movie night is a favorite family ritual.
Family movie night was another one of our family’s favorite family rituals. Back when Blockbuster Video was a thing, my husband would take the older two there to pick out a movie and we all watched together while munching on popcorn. They called it “popcorn movie night.” In the later years of elementary and middle school, we all watched “ER” together. My husband and I enjoyed grading the show on its accuracies in portraying what really happens in an ER.
You can still watch movies together today, using Netflix or the Disney channel. Pick a movie that is good for all to watch together. You can find many ideas for family movies on-line. I heard Brene Brown say that her family – including one teenager and one college student – watches “Ted Lasso” together and then enjoys discussing the meaning in each episode.
Family meetings can be very helpful.
An important family ritual that is supportive for children and parents is the family meeting. In my family these were rarely successful. Whenever I mentioned those words, “We need to have a family meeting,” everyone would scatter. I read that family meetings were sometimes necessary to sort through plans for the week and various wants and needs of family members.
In fact, if conducted effectively, family meetings can teach children how to practice being polite, discuss overcoming difficulties, reflect their feelings, set appropriate goals, and appreciate and understand each other.
The best time for family meetings is after supper together, but you will find the best time for you and your family. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some tips for good family meetings.
Hang in there, Mama as you develop your own family rituals. These rituals are good for you, and for them.