Why do kids need rituals?


“Sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite!” Is this repetitious chant part of your evening ritual? Are chocolate chip pancakes a given in your household every Sunday morning?

Even the most bewildered new parent realises that baby gets calmer with a settled routine for sleeping, eating, and other activities. And if you start singing a funny little song every time you get ready to dip her in the baby tub, she starts cooing in anticipation! The two of you are a private society, she loves it … you love it! By repeating this simple ritual, you are defining your relationship, making her feel safe, loved.

In her book, “Ask the Children”, Ellen Galinsky did a survey on what kids remembered most about their childhood. Most of them responded by talking about simple, everyday rituals such as family dinners or bedtime stories. Why is this so important and how can you create rituals if you are always pressed for time and short on money?

Extraordinary moments often masquerade as ordinary life. A common misconception is that we always have to be entertaining or fun when we’re with our kids. We often neglect the idea that our kids want to spend time with US, often without the distractions of planned activities or unfamiliar surroundings. “In ritual … little is big”. This is so true. A ritual is a kind of rhythmic activity that adds predictability to family life. It becomes a dependable feature of childhood.

Children are constantly discovering the world. Everything is exciting, new, and sometimes, scary. Kids need rituals to understand what will happen next. When bedtime arrives, everything should be familiar. After brushing her teeth and listening to a bedtime story, it is clear that the day ends here. Kids need structure and repetition; this gives them security, stability and a feeling that everything is okay.

Rituals are things that only your family does. They help to communicate “this is who we are” and give a sense of belonging. It can be a crazy handshake, a game in the car, or the way you always wink at your daughter when you drop her off at school. The key is to do it consciously and consistently.

Does the idea of starting family rituals sound overwhelming? Start by keeping things simple, that way you’ll do it often. Weekly white water rafting may be a great adventure but is probably not a practical ritual! Develop a morning and evening routine. What will happen at breakfast? What will happen before bedtime? Ten minutes of reading can mean a lifetime of memories to your little one. Bake a cake on Sundays or allow your child to crawl in bed with you on Saturdays; talk about life or read together. Plan family meals and talk about the highs and lows of the day.

Studies show that rituals of happy families constantly evolve to help them find their way through the inevitable changes of growing up. Your family naturally develops them, from bedtime stories to Sunday morning pancakes; the way you celebrate birthdays, or the way you say goodbye every morning. Anything repeated is the stuff memories are made of!

Here are some cool ideas:

• “The cool red plate” – Designate a special plate-one that looks different from your everyday dinnerware – to serve to a family member who has done something noteworthy or has had something special happen to them (such as a birthday, riding a bike without training wheels, or losing a tooth).
• “New Christmas PJs”. Make this the first present for everyone on Christmas Eve. Not only does this build excitement, but it’s fun, it’s predictable.
• “Dessert-first-day”. Choose one day every month to serve a meal backwards!

You might not be aware that you have rituals, but even that special song at bath time will add to your child’s sense of security and belonging. When they look back, these will be the memories that will define family for them.

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