Family traditions create a sense of connection, security, and stability for children of all ages. Traditions are simply activities repeated over and over again. It’s through repetition that children learn best. By cultivating traditions in your home, you create the perfect environment for your kids to learn values, morals, and behaviors that would otherwise be difficult to teach.
My kids are too rambunctious and energetic during most of the day for me to do anything serious with them. Those spontaneous moments when I can chase them around the house or carry them over my shoulders are what make being a dad worth it. I can also get a lot of teaching in while goofing around with the kids. Sharing, playing fair, practicing the “golden rule,” and cleaning up after yourself are all easily taught while playing.
What I have a harder time doing is deliberately carving out time to teach the kids more formally. Children will learn values and morals by modeling the behavior of their parents. But intentional teaching in structured settings will impress on your kids the importance of what they’re learning.
Getting your kids to settle down long enough to pay attention to anything serious can be like herding cats. Kids thrive in routine, though. Start now to institute family traditions in your home that are frequently repeated. You’ll find your kids clamoring to make sure you don’t forgo this time with them.
Start Family Traditions At a Young Age.
Children begin learning the day they are born. Believe it or not, something as seemingly innate as sleeping can be taught to a child. It’s never too early to start teaching a child, and the younger she learns you expect her to listen and act on what you say, the more obedient she’ll be as she grows. Start traditions at a young age with your children. Make traditions an integral part of your family culture so that your child wants to participate out of a sense of belonging.
Be consistent in your traditions. Many families think of traditions as yearly rituals. Decorating the Christmas tree, making Thanksgiving dinner, or giving birthday gifts are all traditions in which we participate once a year. How many of us have daily or weekly traditions, though? Recurring daily or weekly activities are invested with meaning, and will stick with your child, even after he’s left the home.
Keep Family Traditions Simple
Don’t think that a tradition has to be elaborate, planned out, or memorable to be effective. In fact, simple traditions can be even more valuable for a child. Through simplicity, you are more available to talk to, listen to, and connect with your child. Simple traditions are also easier to execute and frequently repeat.
Try incorporating these 4 simple family traditions into your family’s daily, weekly, and monthly routine for a stronger relationship with your children.
1. Family Prayer
A consistent and simple tradition to start in your home while your kids are young is prayer. In our house, we pray with our kids before bed and over every meal. This daily tradition, repeated several times each day, has taught our kids how to express gratitude, how to be patient, how to care for others, and how to speak to authority.
You can pray any time, anywhere, and in whatever style you want. We like to prompt Henry with certain key phrases when he prays (“I am grateful for,” or “Please help me to”) and allow him to get creative with how he fills in the blanks. We also make sure to pray out loud in front of him so he hears what else he might include in a prayer.
Henry’s reminders to me before breakfast that we haven’t prayed constantly amaze me. He won’t touch his meal now before praying. Waiting to eat has increased his patience.
Praying with both Henry and Annie creates a few minutes each day where I can teach them about God, service to others, giving thanks, and setting goals. During our prayers we talk with each other about what we are thinking or what we are doing, and Henry has a list each night of new people for whom he is grateful. That list always includes Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, and Annie. Prayer has become a reminder for Henry to think positively of those closest to him.
Try having your kids pray before eating or doing some other activity. Put a pause on your day that requires them to sit still, think, and talk quietly and respectfully.
2. Family Dinner
This can go hand-in-hand with family prayer if you choose to implement prayer each time you eat.
Eating together is not in vogue these days, and it’s not hard to see why. It can seem like an all-day affair to meal plan, buy the food, prepare the food, eat together, and clean up. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel worth all the effort. This is especially true if your kids are picky eaters or have decided not to eat what you cooked.
Amidst all the screaming, complaining, and food throwing, though, take note of what else is going on. Your child may have learned how to set a table. She may be learning to eat politely with a fork. Older kids not only learn nutrition at family mealtime, but how to converse with others as well.
If you really want to keep mealtime structured, try keeping a “question jar” close at hand and making anyone who speaks draw a question from the jar and attempt to answer it. Or, don’t structure your mealtime discussion and let each child chime in when she wishes.
Mealtime provides the perfect opportunity to re-connect with your kids after they’ve been gone all day and to get them thinking about how they might want to improve the next day. Mealtime will be a buffer from the world for your kids. The dinner table can be a place away from life’s harsh realities, where family culture and values are taught and flourish.
3. Family Court
Holding a “Family Court” is a fun way for kids to learn about justice and equity, and an easy setting in which to create a set of family rules that govern your home. It’s also very enlightening for parents to see exactly how and what their kids think.
Hold a “Family Court” quarterly. Keep track of 2 or 3 grievances the kids have that have not worked themselves out since your last “Family Court” and hold a “trial” to resolve the issues.
Prior to holding the “trial,” sit down as a family and assess your household rules. What are the rules? Are the consequences for rule breaking just? What over-arching principles guide your family? Remind the kids that these rules and principles play a major role in the outcome of the “trial.”
Once you have re-assessed how you are doing as a family keeping the household rules, hold the “trial.” You or your spouse should always be the “judge.” Have your kids take turns sitting on the “jury,” giving “witness testimony,” or “representing” a sibling. The children’s individual roles will all depend on the circumstances of the “case.”
Kids like to express their opinions. The “Courtroom” is an ideal place for them to be able to speak up and be heard without being interrupted. Ultimately, a child is more likely to accept the resolution of a problem if he’s been able to first say his piece.
4. Parent-Child “Interviews”
Being one-on-one with your child is by far how you will learn the most about her. One-on-one time strengthens your relationship with your child and enhances your ability to communicate.
In today’s fast-paced society, kids with siblings rarely get that one-on-one time. As parents, it’s just too hard to work, manage a household, and spend time individually with each child.
Something that has worked for me is to plan ahead to spend an hour with of my children. That hour can be over ice cream, gardening in the yard, or doing something the child likes to do. It often works to involve my child in something I already have on my “to-do” list, like cleaning the garage. They don’t really seem to notice the difference. It’s just special time.
Don’t focus on the activity. Use the hour to listen to your child. Treat the hour as a formal or informal “interview,” where you ask the questions and allow your child to answer in depth. I like to keep a note-card for each child during the month where I can record thoughts on their strengths and weaknesses and questions specific to each one of them.
No child is too young to focus on individually. For example, my 2-year old’s note card has a list of his favorite books, some words he’s consistently struggling to say, and a note that he’s scared of flies. Our hour together could consist of reading outside together, trying to catch a fly, and talking as much as possible. (He’ll definitely be able to fill the entire hour talking.)
Taking time to spend with each child demonstrates your love and concern for them, but also helps get you both comfortable, at an early age, with talking about the difficult or the mundane. Your ability to do this, and the expectation that your child will also engage, will set a precedent in your home of open and honest communication.
Take the Time
Consider what your schedule looks like. Everyone is at a different place and can offer more during different stages of life. Something is always better than nothing, and we can all do something. We already are! The key is to be intentional with the time that we are already giving. That’s when these simple traditions become a lasting legacy to your home and family.
These are only some ideas for consistently and simplistically creating spaces and situations in which to engage with your kids. Each of them might seem forced as you begin. As with any tradition, though, a routine will develop, and your kids will appreciate your deliberate efforts to teach, learn, and love.
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