PARENTING TODAY: Rituals give children sense of security

As we prepare for the holidays, the expectations can seem overwhelming. 
 
The trick is to determine, with family members, what activities are integral to the holiday and which are simply habits no one really cares about.
 
Certainty of the activities will be important. They are your holiday rituals. They are a touchstone for our children and it’s important to make time for them over the holidays.
 
“Ritual” sounds so ponderous and overwhelming that the idea of incorporating rituals into our busy lives seems a little over the top. But in fact, family rituals are simply actions we take regularly and which our children count on. 
 
You tuck three-year-old Noah into bed every night and kiss first his right cheek and then his left. This is ritual. If you do something different, he’ll notice.
 
Besides the daily actions we take without even thinking, holidays offer the chance for ritualized activities associated with a special event.
 
In our family when our children were little, buying a Christmas tree was a family event. We often visited a number of lots to find the right tree. As we considered each candidate we would name the tree. For some reason we chose the characters from the Flintstones so we would end up purchasing either Wilma or Fred. 
 
The children did the bulk of the decorating, so yes, for many years the tree was bottom-heavy. After they discovered stepladders, our decorations were distributed evenly up and down. The kids looked forward to the rituals surrounding tree choosing and decorating.
 
Children have little control over their world so they count on activities they know will occur. Whether it’s the kiss goodnight or the Christmas tree, their world has a certainty to it.
 
There can also be silly rituals. We had a short tunnel near our home that was often empty when we drove through. So, the driver would honk the horn, causing a great echo. 
 
The kids loved it. Every time we headed toward the tunnel they craned their necks to see if there was other traffic. When there was none, they grinned and waited for the noise.
 
Rituals define how you live. Routines and rituals are predictable. They give our children a sense of security. They can relax when they know what to expect next. That’s why wanting their own special plate every day at lunch or having all family members sit in the same spot at the dinner table matters to kids. 
 
Of course, the world doesn’t run like a well-oiled machine with routines that never vary. The important thing is to remember that when a routine is going to change, your children may rebel. Don’t expect that they won’t notice. 
 
Tell them that there will be change and why. For example, if you are going to spend Christmas with the grandparents in another city, they will do some things differently. 
 
Once your children get older, rituals will change. I well remember the first year my daughter could not come with us to purchase our Christmas tree. She was away at university and had exams up to Dec. 23, so she wouldn’t make it home until that evening. We adjusted and life went on.
 
However, she came home to a special celebratory meal. She told us she knew exactly what we would have for dinner because that menu was the signal for a special event and, certainly, her coming home for the holidays rated. So, while she sat on the plane knowing she had missed out on buying a tree, she could anticipate the meal she knew would greet her arrival.
 
When you begin to think about your daily routine and holiday activities, you will likely realize there are many chances for ongoing rituals that the entire family will enjoy.
 
Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author of Vive la Différence, Who’s In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home. You can read more or sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca
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