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May 15th, 2011

Rituals

Easter egg unt

Some of you will have recently celebrated Easter with all its attendant rituals. Whether you are Christian or religious or not there are always rituals surrounding holidays and special occasions. At Easter time there are eggs, of a chocolate variety or otherwise, and whether or not the significance of the egg matters many families will have engaged in Easter egg hunts. Many of you will spend such holidays with families or go back to the same place year in, year out. We have always gone to my husband’s family home in Dorset for Easter and when the children were little we started the ritual of Easter egg hunts which involved the children following clues to find their treasure –we like to make them work for their sugar fixes! As they got older this became quite a burden for the adults as we had to devise bigger and better clues and not always hide the eggs in the same place. One year we resorted to our scanty knowledge of the foreign languages the children were learning at school. My grown up children are now involved in devising the clues for the younger ones thank goodness. However there was no suggestion that we could abandon this practice because that was what we’d always done. Any suggested variation in this or other routines is always met with howls of protest.

When Prince William married Katherine Middleton their very public wedding which was watched by so many around the world brought to mind another set of practices. The customs and ceremonies around marriage will of course vary in different cultures but all cultures will have some established conventions. The bride often wears white, there is usually a bouquet of flowers, an exchange or giving of one ring and an exchange of vows. These kinds of rituals are shared by whole cultures. But within families there are often rituals which are uniquely their own, routine ways of doing things around mealtimes or bedtimes or travel, idiosyncratic phrases or family sayings or how birthdays are celebrated for instance. Maybe Dad always sits in his chair; Mum always drives; when Dad comes home the kids always race to greet him at the door; the bedtime routine is bath, stories, cuddles and talk, lights out; everyone sings on long car journeys; the Sunday morning ritual is breakfast in Mum and Dads bed with the newspapers etc, etc.  I always think of my grandfather when I use phrases that he used such as waking my sons in the morning with ‘How’s my bonny boy?’ –hardly unique but I can hear his voice when I say it. He also called me tuppence because I was number two in the family and now my brother calls his second daughter tuppence which I love.

Some practices will be more important than others. My children have long said about certain family practices like dressing the Christmas tree that they will always do things like this with their children. Clearly rituals and routines are loved because of their familiarity and we know that children flourish on routine. I work in a centre for troubled adolescents and they are thriving on a recent increase in structure. They know where they stand and what is expected of them. Most children prosper when there are clear expectations upheld with certainty and consistency. Familiar rituals can provide comfort when things are upsetting.

Rituals are specific to certain communities or families so when we participate in those little rites we show we belong to that community. That sense of belonging is very important to our happiness. Family traditions can also help pass on specific values to your children. In my family when we celebrate a birthday we sing happy birthday and then have the usual 3 cheers but then we also say ‘and one for the umpire’ which is met with a boo! Not sure that’s a value I really meant to pass on to my kids.

Ritualising certain practices will help them become habits. So it’s a good idea to brush your teeth at the same time and in the same place every day. Likewise parents who want to remember to praise their children more find it helps to do it at a set time each day such as mealtimes or bedtimes. It can be part of the bedtime routine to praise your child and ask them to think of things that they are proud of or good things that happened that day. Some families have praise books which they write in each evening. My husband and I write down one thing we want to appreciate the other for every night and have found it creates a wonderful bond and an atmosphere of trust and feeling cherished between us.

You will probably already have your some of own rituals but we recommend you develop further family rituals to create a sense of togetherness and the feeling of comfort and security that certainty brings and to get into good habits. You might like to consider the following:

  • Games you play (we have had hilarious evenings playing charades)
  • Special hugs
  • Code words or signals
  • Morning routines (pleasant ones!)
  • Making scrapbooks
  • Baking
  • Friday Family Fun night with movies and popcorn (my bother’s family has a dress theme)
  • Cooking together
  • Conversations at mealtimes can be started with topic suggestions ( a good aid is the game called Table Topics)

Enjoy!

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