5 Tips for Building Family Traditions

5 Tips for Building Family Traditions





We are in a snow globe, sitting peacefully amid the plastic, waterproof flakes, and suddenly someone gives us a shake. Then as the flakes swirl, the annoying shaker decides to unleash a full maraca-style shake action on us and we are left dizzy, unable to see clearly, and disorientated. This is how life feels in my house the past two years when it comes to traditions, and I’m struggling as a mom to help my children settle amid the blizzard. Our traditions for holidays, birthdays, and even just those little, comforting traditions have become jumbled. We watched a dear loved one become ill with cancer, mashed and mixed up life to be with her as much as possible, and then had to say good-bye. We have watched close loved ones move away. My parents are now snowbirds, so Christmas traditions suddenly blew away, and other family dynamics have changed so much that sometimes it doesn’t seem like we are even in the right place – our globe just doesn’t feel like our own.

Building Traditions with Kids

Ask my husband – I’m nuts about traditions. And I am not alone (or even too crazy) for feeling this way. According to research, Dr. Martin Cohen says that children are drawn to rituals and traditions, “artistically, spiritually and emotionally.” Traditions also help to provide our kids with healthy foundations that:

  • Strengthen core beliefs
  • Build self-esteem
  • Give tools with which to deal with stress, fear, and anxiety
  • Provide kids with a sense of control, security, and continuity

When we provide routines and traditions for our children, we are giving them more than memories in their scrapbooks. We are using those rituals to help shape who our children are, and who they will become.

5 Ways to Develop Rituals with Kids

We’ve been sorting through family photographs and mementos, separating each into different storage totes for each child, and reliving memories. My kids are at ages where there are striking differences between my memory of that day in the mall, sitting on Santa’s lap, and the memory my child has of Santa’s stinky breath, yet super soft voice. Research also shows that there are different reasons why our kids remember certain aspects of their childhood, and what we can do to strengthen those memories.

  • If you want them to remember it – do it more than once. Think about the things you remember from childhood. They are the routines – watching movies together on Friday nights, stopping for doughnuts after church, looking for constellations as you drove home from Grandma’s house – these small things we do without great planning, but they were done often.
  • Write it down. If your child is too young to tell you how she feels, write down her reactions to certain things. If you kids are old enough, ask them to dictate the memories and record their thoughts on the backs of pictures, as captions on digital pictures, and in journals you keep together.
  • Record their stories. Video and voice recordings are priceless keepsakes. One of my favorite things my husband has done is to record the voices of our kids at different ages – just simple things like saying (or trying to say) their names, saying phrases such as, “I love you, Mommy”, and capturing their laughter in audio files. (The kids absolutely love to listen to these as well, and it only takes seconds to record.)
  • Have them choose their favorite drawings and school papers – their reasons matter to them and they will know why it has been saved. You can keep some of your favorites, too, but the memories will be more meaningful for your kids if they had a say in which items were kept.
  • Save a few tangibles – their baby hat, first keychain, or first pair of glasses. My children love to touch and hold the items that they remember cherishing. My 9 year-old still has the teddy bear his siblings picked out for him before he was even born.

Building Traditions with Kids

Sometimes we get so busy with the day-to-day craziness that we lose sight of all the ways we have the opportunities to build traditions with our kids. According to publications from Ohio State University, there are 3 main types of traditions parents should recognize for their kids:

  1. Celebrations – These are traditions built around special occasions such as holidays and birthdays.
  2. Family Traditions – These are specific traditions that are unique to individual families, such as Friday night game night, summer vacations at Grandma’s, etc.
  3. Pattered Family Interactions – These are routines that we often forget help to create traditions that are important to our kids, even small things such as morning routines, who cooks dinner, reading together in the evening, etc.

What to do When Traditions End

It just isn’t the same. I’ve heard those words a lot in my house over the past two years, and my heart sags each time my kids say this phrase, for I am feeling it, too. However, we are slowly emerging from the sadness of losing some traditions and getting excited as we start to build new ones. If your family is struggling, especially this holiday season, with trying to build new traditions and rituals, try some of these ideas.

  • Volunteer together. Nothing makes me and my kids stop the pity-party like volunteering to help someone less fortunate, and the volunteer opportunities can serve as new rituals for your own family.
  • Start small. Sometimes when I see my kids sad about a tradition ending as life events have changed things beyond our control, I want to wave my Magical Mom Wand and make a grand gesture that will distract them. But trying to overdo new traditions can backfire. Can you really keep topping it each year? Instead of going all out, try getting back to the basics of the tradition.
  • Think outside the box. Get creative in your solutions and try celebrating in ways that are non-traditional. If birthday celebrations are the source of sadness because of a loss in your family, spend a year celebrating half-birthdays.
  • Don’t try to recreate. My mom always hosted the most magical Christmas Eve celebrations for our family, but now we are a country apart and my kids still miss that magic. The first year I fretted over how I would duplicate what Mom did, but then I realized that what I needed to do was create new traditions for my family.

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