Since our kids were infants, we have massaged and quietly tickled them at bed-time while listening to classical music CD “Music For Dreaming” playing softly in the background. This simple ritual had a multitude of benefits including creating a wind-down cue for our children that sleep time was approaching, strengthening the parent and child bond through touch, not to mention the calming of weary parents as we lay with our children and shared the soothing sounds of uninterrupted lullabies.
At The Family Peace Foundation, we are passionate about strengthening families and minimising family conflict using simple, evidence-based and accessible strategies and tools. One powerful practice known to strengthen families is the creation and practice of family rituals. Family rituals help to create a sense of belonging and identity, and are positively associated with a child’s socioemotional, language, academic and social skill development. When practiced regularly, rituals strengthen the connectedness between partners, and parents and their children which helps build stronger family bonds.
With so many known benefits, some readers may be wondering what rituals are recommended to incorporate into family life. Luckily the answer is almost limitless! While regular trips to Disneyland may rank high on your kids list as a ritual they would like to adopt, potent and meaningful rituals need only be enjoyable, accessible and able to be practiced regularly for them to become a sustainable thread in the fabric of any family household.
In fact, many families will probably already be involved in simple rituals such as meal sharing. Recent studies link regular family dinners with positive outcomes including lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grades and self-esteem. Regular family meals also lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.
There is no recipe for the perfect family ritual. Other rituals may include cooking special dishes to celebrate birthdays and other significant milestone events, going for a family walk after dinner, playing cards one night of the week, reading books in bed or on the couch quietly in each other’s company, singing silly songs to pets, a secret family hand-shake, playing I-Spy on long car trips, watching Modern Family together on a Sunday night, sharing a jam donut at the footy, or story-telling while looking at old family photos.
Strong connections are built on the small, loving things we do and say regularly, not the one- off bells and whistles outings that end up on Facebook!
Family rituals help build a sense of security and predictability, and say “this is who we are” as a family. When over the years, moments of uncertainty and insecurity inevitably visit us, a history of rituals provides a robust template of belonging and meaning to take into our adult years.
When a family practices and relishes a range of rituals, parents may also benefit from a big tick in the parental-efficacy box, and the knowledge that the family is connecting and delighting in it’s bite-sized, regular, ritualistic moments. Sometimes I joke that when our now-teenage daughters eventually get married, I’ll lie down next to my new son-in-laws to tickle them off to sleep while playing gentle lullabies! But in reality, I’d be thrilled if our girls and their partners tickle and massage their own kids to sleep knowing that our sleep-time ritual lives on.