Customs and rituals provide security and comfort.
Traditions, and the rituals which express them, captivate me. I am fascinated by the comfort of my morning coffee, by the reassurance of weddings and funerals, by the familiarity of school bells and prayer bells. This crazy world would be even crazier without balloons at birthday parties, or warm handshakes of greeting. Such rituals are security blankets for our frazzled souls.
To distinguish, a tradition is information which we pull from the past, into the present. Rituals are symbolic actions, which originate in our traditions. Both give children a recognizable, consistent message that all is safe and well. They bridge the gaps of age and distance within our families. When my kids and I snuggle up to write to Santa, I can almost feel my mother in the room with us, all the way from Ireland, cuppa in hand!
Rituals provide security
Rituals help children understand the passage of time. A bedtime story marks the end of the day. The farmer’s market marks the end of a week. A birthday marks the end of a year. Children “manage” this concept through the rituals we put in place.
Rituals provide security for young children by rendering life somewhat predictable. While the pace and content of our lives varies greatly, most of us pause to celebrate the holidays that are significant to us – Ramadan, Hanukah, Christmas, weddings, anniversaries. It is the decision to pause, the intentionality, that transforms such moments from simple habits into precious rituals.
Children need to see the adults in their lives participating in ritual. Small daily rituals, such as enjoying music at bath time and being thankful at mealtimes, tell children that the adults are in control, and can be trusted! Without trust, children can neither play nor learn in healthy ways.
As parenting tools, rituals provide comfort in unfamiliar circumstances. If your child loves a bedtime story, this ritual will help him (and therefore you!) sleep when you’re travelling. Rituals that stem from a shared interest (train watching, movies, etc.) are fertile ground for deepening your relationship with your child.
Holidays drenched in tradition
Family traditions emerge unexpectedly – the tooth fairy in our house pays double if you swallow your tooth with your lunch … but it HAS to be accidental! Such quirky traditions contribute to the family identity, and provide tangible evidence that, weird as we are, we belong together!
Holiday times are drenched in ritual. Adults know that life goes on if things change from year to year, but young children don’t. They rely on knowing that Dad will cook a turkey, that the Menorah candles will be lit in the usual way, or that Eid will be celebrated with a wonderful feast. Whether Solstice celebrations or Kwanzaa gatherings, what is important is that we choose to make them happen, and that they always happen! Children need to know that although the world is constantly chang- ing, some things will always remain the same. This belief allows them to develop a sense of continuity, and to mature into stable, secure adults.
Blended families can celebrate the rituals of both families of origin, and children raised in this environment often experience it as having the best of both worlds! Teaching appreciation of religions and customs different from our own is a wonderful gift to give to our children, and to the wider community by extension. When death or divorce threatens the stability of the family, immeasurable comfort for children comes from knowing that their traditions will be honoured as the family configuration changes.
Deepening family connections
Inevitably, the rituals we promote are the ones that bring comfort, and deepen our family connections. Cherished rituals may celebrate something unique about your family or community, or may be tiny private practices. Your rituals may teach your children about your family identity, or what you value. And when a ritual no longer satisfies, remove or replace it – be assured that creating new rituals with your kids invites them to contribute to the family story in a meaningful way.
I believe that the best gifts we give to our children are our time, energy, and full attention. I coach parents to schedule “playtime” in their planners – before they schedule anything else! This is the time to bake or read together. This is the time for a family meeting, or to rake a huge leaf pile to jump in. You and your kids are entitled to this time, and you must protect it from competition! This is when you will create those precious memories that will forever be defended with: “But we ALWAYS…!”