Family routines offer children structure, attention and lasting memories
December 20, 2011
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Ever since last year, when their 8-year-old son, Christopher, asked if they could stop eating dinner around the television and instead share one meal a week together as family, mother Trina and her husband have discovered the power of family rituals.
and#8220;On Wednesday nights we come to the table dressed, with our shoes on and our hair combed, like we’re going out to dinner,and#8221; Trina said. and#8220;There are no phone calls, no cell phones, nothing for an hour, from 6 to 7 p.m. We use our nice dishes and take turns setting the table and saying the prayer.and#8221;
Trina immediately noticed the benefits of the scheduled times with the kids. and#8220;It helps the kids learn manners, but we try to keep it fun. Christopher even reminds me not to put my elbows on the table. It is a great way to talk to each other and a great time to make decisions. My daughter wanted to go to a Friday night dance, so my husband and I talked about it over dinner. My son and daughter are able to relate without fighting. There’s nothing we can’t tackle over dinner time.and#8221;
Times to connect
Patty Wipfler, director of Hand in Hand Parenting, encourages parents to set a pattern of family time the children may look forward to. and#8220;You are connecting around an activity, so the business of life just falls away during that hour or half-hour. Parents are pulled in 15 different directions, and that (pattern) gives them time to connect.and#8221; It doesn’t have to be a whole hour. and#8220;Parents need to do what works for them,and#8221; said Wipfler. The point is that and#8220;kids get undivided time. It could be only five minutes; the important thing is that the child can depend on it. For some parents a schedule works, for others, it doesn’t. Make a promise and keep it. Follow through, even if it’s not always at the same time.and#8221;
Ritual ideas from other parents
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Lidia bonds with her three children with simple routines. and#8220;We eat breakfast together every day and I try to read to them for 15-20 minutes,and#8221; she said. and#8220;If I can’t do it every day, sometimes it’s just a couple of times a week. It’s important for us to interact as a family and I think the kids enjoy the stories.and#8221;
One other mother raised both her children with family ritual routines. and#8220;Cooking together was really important. It helped lay down patterns for our relationship, and time we expected to spend together. Even when the kids where teens, cooking was something we knew how to do together. It allowed us to have space together.and#8221;
She also liked to share activities that allowed for conversation. and#8220;We often think of rituals as candles and things of enormous significance. But kids remember patterns and it is so important to carve out that time. The time before bed is key too. One time my daughter said and#8220;I want to talk to you just before I go to sleep.and#8221; I thought, and#8220;I want to be there for that! It’s hard when parents are tired, but it’s important.and#8221;
Julianne doesn’t always have a set idea of what she and her daughter are going to do during their special time. and#8220;That’s how I ended up with orange stripes in my hair,and#8221; she said. and#8220;My daughter got extra special time for getting accepted on the gymnastics teams and she wanted to dye our hair. She got purple and yellow stripes and I just got the orange stripes. It’s important for there to be clear ending times for adults too,and#8221; she added.
The program director for the Parent Leadership Institute encourages building rituals around difficult times of the day. If bedtime is hard, have special time right at the beginning of bedtime. When there is a new child or when a child is hospitalized, the (special) time can almost be therapeutic. Let them tell you how they are, what they’re dealing with, and what they’re feeling. Don’t answer the phone, pick up, clean, instruct or direct. Just be with them for the amount of time you set.
Why it’s important
Family rituals aren’t necessarily about what you do; they are more about doing things together. Janis, another mother, shows how simple it can be and#8220;(During our time together) I just ask the kids, and#8216;What was good about your day? What was hard?’ It builds structure, and kids will remember it.and#8221;
Creating family rituals allows kids and parents to spend time together, to connect and share significant events. It creates structure they look forwards to and look back on. It provides an opportunity to share meaning and values. How we spend our time conveys our beliefs to our children.
For more information, please contact Communities 4 Kids, the Tahoe Truckee Child Abuse Prevention Council at 530-587-1776.
and#8212; Kristen Mann, board member, Communities 4 Kids