Ishtar Gabriel, a child and family therapist and one of our expert instructors at rise, shares how to build rituals into family routine.
Alongside many childcare specialists, Ishtar believes that rituals and routines are of the utmost importance.
Rituals – things that only your family does – are symbolic representations of our values and beliefs and help us bond with our children and create a sense of belonging as a family unit.
They can be big rituals, such as how your family traditionally celebrates a particular holiday, or smaller ones, like always having pancakes on Saturday mornings. Routines, which we can think of as a series of rituals strung together throughout the day, create predictability and thus build a sense of security for a child. Together, rituals and routines help prime our children for changes and transitions, both big and small, in a positive way.
For example, reading a bedtime story signals that it’s time to go to sleep. Helping to set the table means that it’s time for the family not only to share a meal but to share about their day as well. Having a special handshake or singing a special song with your child before they head out to school makes saying goodbye easier. This last example is especially important if your young one is at school for the first time.
If done regularly, simple rituals like this ensure we prioritise our families and make space for them in our daily lives. I know creating and incorporating rituals into your life may seem like yet another thing to add to your ‘to do list’ – which may feel especially daunting during the hectic school year. But we shouldn’t approach rituals in a dry, task-oriented manner – rituals communicate that your child is important to you and they are a way to bring your family closer together.
If you’re willing to invest the time to build up a set of family rituals (and reap the rewards that come with them!) here are some of
Think about timing
Routines are all about schedules, and when building rituals into your routine you should consider different times of the day, week, month and year when your family could use a ritual. Great times for family rituals are meal times, transition times (like going to or coming home from school and getting ready for bed), weekends, birthdays and calendar holidays.
It would probably feel overwhelming and possibly contrived to plan out several daily, weekly and monthly rituals all at once. It’s not a competition. Simply select 10 minutes of one day and start there – for example, setting the table before dinner. You can build on this later as you and your family incorporate this new ritual (and its benefits) into your lives.
Keep it short and sweet
Making rituals convoluted and drawn out risks turning something pleasurable intended for bonding into a dreaded event. A ritual can be as simple as a quick made up family song before everyone leaves for the day, sharing a story about your day around the dinner table or a special handshake as you drop your child off for the day or meet her at the school bus.
Put away the electronics
Ritual times should be absolutely free of distractions. That means putting away the cell phones, turning off the television. Limiting distractions keeps the time sacred and lets those participating in the rituals know that they are important. This is especially important when it comes to meal times.
Try to incorporate physical contact, like hugs, snuggles, secret handshakes or actions to a song, as well as plenty of eye contact, into some of your rituals. Physical touch has been proven to have a healing quality that is important for all the members of your family so don’t underestimate its power!
My favourite ritual this past summer was our daily family walks in Bali, talking a stroll on the black sand beaches, through the beautiful mountains, and in the jungle. We had plenty of time for sharing stories, rediscovering nature, laughing, and hugs. Sometimes, being a working mom, you miss the cuddles after school, and the joys of watching your kids play daily. We’ve continued our summer-inspired ritual with long evening walks on the beach on weekends, and sharing stories from the kids’ school library books. I only hope that this inspires you to create rituals in your home, if you haven’t already.
Ishtar Gabriel, a child and family therapist, registered psychotherapist and founder of KIDU, is based in Hamilton, Ontario, where she also goes by “The Toddler Trainer.” Her course, Caring for a Spirited Child, is available on the Rise app.