When our daughter Chelsea attended university in Montreal she was chatting with her friends about their various plans for the Christmas break.
She told them that she was flying home and looking forward to the dinner we would have when she arrived. She told her friends that it would begin with escargots in mushroom caps and this would be followed with a caesar salad and meat fondue with a number of dipping sauces. Dessert would be an ice-cream sundae.
“Wow,” her friends exclaimed. “You really put in a meal order with your folks.”
“Oh no,” she explained. “In our house that is the meal we always have for special occasions. And me coming home would be an occasion. It’s a family ritual.”
Rituals are touchstones for our children. They have so little control over their lives that the special and predictable rituals give them a sense of safety and security. It’s something they can count on.
Rituals can be an activity that takes place around holidays or birthdays or other regular but annual events. Or they can be daily such as cuddling together for a bedtime story or a kiss and cuddle before leaving the house.
I remember a story about a new preschool teacher who had not picked up on this message.
She came in mid-year to cover a maternity leave with a group of three-year-olds. Now, these kids knew what to expect in their program. But the teacher had different ideas. Not bad ideas, just different.
So, when she changed the schedule so that circle time came before snack time the kids were outraged. The parents explained to her that if she wanted to change the routine, she would have to do it slowly and with the approval of the children.
It’s important to realize how kids pay attention to routines.
My husband and I have a membership at the Vancouver Aquarium that includes our grandchildren. We have taken them there a number of times. Now, it’s part of the routine.
Any time they spend the night with us they presume that we will hit the Aquarium the next morning. We can change the plans, but it takes a clear and serious conversation and a buy-in from the kids.
It’s simply a matter of realizing that they have an understanding of how they expect our visits to unfold and change requires some warning.
Life is not always totally predictable, but your kids will do well if you let them know when a change is going to happen and why. They are not inflexible, they just like to know what to expect. Actually, adults are similar in this regard.
Let’s say that you are going to attend an event at a large convention centre. You will scour whatever resources you have at hand to not only find the time and location but also information on the itinerary for the event, the location for parking and whether food is included.
The more you know the more comfortable you will be. Then you arrive at the large venue and see signs indicating your event and immediately feel in control. Same thing with kids, but twice as important.
The rituals and routines we develop with our kids from the quick hug in the morning to the annual family birthday dinner matter to our kids. They like to anticipate what will happen and to have control over some events so they can relax and simply enjoy the activity.
And, let’s face it, it’s easier for you. Just do what you did last time and the kids will be thrilled.
Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert and author of Vive la Différence, Who’s In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.