By David Joel Miller.
Families that plan their rituals and routines have better-behaved children.
Families that begin by planning the kind of family they want, including rituals and routines have happier and better-behaved children EVEN when one of the parents is an alcoholic! (Kiser, Bennett, Heston, and Paavola, 2005)
Rituals and routines – what’s the difference?
Most families have routines.
Routines are usual patterns of activities. Routines are often repetitive and they are frequently rehearsed to get them right. Routines are our usual or standard way of doing things.
A typical family, every night at 8:00 mom yells from the living room to the bedrooms, “time for bed, get ready NOW!” Mom goes back to watching T. V. Kids go back to playing. This routine may get repeated during the commercial break at 8:30 and again at 9:00. By 10:00 PM mom makes a dash for the bedroom yelling like a banshee. Kids now take her seriously and begin to get ready for bed.
Routines recur in a family but no one places much significance in the event. It is just the way things happen in a family. We do this over and over.
Rituals are created with advanced thought and they have symbolic meaning.
Rituals are formal, systematic, patterned and usually, unvarying, often religious or spiritual patterns of behavior.
At 8:00 mom leaves her T. V. programs and goes to the room of her youngest who she helps get ready for bed. She tucks him in, says prayers or reads a story and ends with a hug or kiss, and tells them she loves them. Each child, in turn, gets a good night contact. The contact may change as the child ages but the significance of the parent coming to say goodnight remains the same. The good night ritual conveys to the child the feeling “you are loved.”
Routines become habits for good or bad, but creating rituals builds relationships that last a lifetime. Many family rituals get passed down from generation to generation often modified as the new generation adds others from the outside to the family.
Families that have rituals are characterized by better mental health.
Family rituals are likely to fall into one of three categories. What separate them from the mass of daily activities are the intentionality and the meaning they assume. The three types of rituals are:
1. Celebrations mark special events.
These rituals may be those practiced by the larger culture or they may be unique to the particular family. Some families continue to celebrate festivals unique to their family heritage. Holidays and rites of passage are common celebrations.
2. Traditions have a special meaning to you or your loved ones.
These are celebrations that are unique to the particular family. They may include anniversaries of important events, birthdays or dates of particular significance to the family. Recovering people often celebrate their twelve-step or recovery birthday.
3. Patterned ritualized routines.
Family dinners are a good example of this process. For many families dinner is a hurried meal which even if consumed together is a series of people arriving, rushed eating and departures. Those at the table may be distracted by T. V. electronics, cell phones, and other non-family activities.
A family that transforms the dinner meal might make a deliberate effort to change this eating activity into a ritual.
Outside distractions are banned from the table. No one begins to eat until all the family is seated and someone says a prayer, blessing or announces that it is time to eat. People are encouraged to engage in conversation. Each person will be expected to share something from their day.
School age children may be asked to share one thing they learned that day. Begun at an early age, that practice of needing to have that one newly learned item to share can instill a lifelong interest in learning.
Having a deliberate plan for these family rituals is important and promotes healthy child development. Strong family rituals have been shown to limit the transmission of alcoholism and other dysfunctional behavior (Kiser, Bennett, Heston and Paavola, 2005.)
Having set rituals for particular events can reduce the stress around those events. Following a disaster or change in family structure the sooner the family can return to their customary rituals the less stress the child experiences.
The earlier these family rituals were developed and incorporated into the family’s life the better it is for the child’s development.
Preplanned family rituals take on greater meaning. Planed ritual activities make family time more special.
One question new parents should ask themselves is “What kind of family do you want?” The rituals they create will determine the result.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books