Rituals and routines add stability to family life and contribute to the smooth running of the household. Let’s look at some examples of rituals and routines that many people find helpful.
Bedtime rituals are useful for helping children’s minds and bodies settle down to prepare for sleep. Many parents start the bedtime ritual an hour or 45 minutes before the child’s actual bedtime. This allows for a leisurely transition from a high level of energy and activity to a slower paced rhythm and winding down for the night. A typical beditme ritual for young children consists of the following activities:
- bedtime snack
- wash face & brush teeth (with some nights including a full bath)
- getting into pajama’s
- bedtime stories
- quiet time
- lights out
Some people have a bathtime ritual for their young children. It helps kids focus on the task at hand – getting clean! Once the bathtime ritual begins, children stay in the bathroom until its completion (no running down the hallway). When children do the same thing in the same order each time, the process of cleaning up becomes automatic and easy for them. Here are some components of a bathtime routine:
- wash face and brush teeth
- get undressed as bath is filling
- play with bath toys for a few minutes
- wash hair
- wash body
- play a few minutes more
- get out of bath and get dressed
When families sit down to eat together – whether that is once or twice a week or whether it is every night – they may observe some rituals that foster decorum and civilized behavior at the table. For instance, in some households each child sits in the same chair every night. This makes for efficient seating instead of a nightly battle about who sits where. Some people may have prayer rituals before and/or after eating. This makes the meal a sanctified activity connected to something even larger than the family itself. Some people have a ritual of talking about the events of their day at the table, or sharing some positive news, or discussing a hot topic in politics, religion or current events. Instead of everyone talking at once, the father or mother may be designated as the “chair person” who helps initiate and maintain the flow of conversation. Some parents ask their children to wait until everyone (including the parents) have been served their meal before they start to eat. In some households, some meals are selected for special routines. For instance, some people celebrate Sabbath meals or weekend meals. These may have several courses such as a soup or salad course, a main course and a dessert. Some people assign tasks to each child or each person in the family: one sets the table, one serves the entree, one serves the main course, one serves dessert, one clears the table and so on. Or, a family might have a different routine altogether – for instance, it might be expected that each person takes off his or her own plate and washes it or puts it in the dishwasher. Whatever the particular routines and rituals, automatic processes at the dinner table help the meal run more efficiently and smoothly.
Having unique family rituals can be both fun and emotionally enriching. Families can create any rituals they like – having popcorn every Saturday night, going on a drive every Sunday afternoon, going to a particular beach every weekend in the summer, having a favorite meal every Monday night and so on and so forth. Pleasureable weekly, monthly and seasonal rituals help family members bond and create wonderful memories to treasure for a lifetime.
Routines can be established for virtually anything: how laundry gets organized, washed, folded and put away; how rooms get cleaned; how food shopping happens, how people pack for trips and so on and so forth. All routines help tasks flow more quickly and smoothly. As children grow older and can participate in household routines, they are able to incorporate important self-care routines into their consciousness. In adulthood, they will find it easy and natural to look after themselves and their homes. The less routine there is in a household, the more difficult it can be for children to pick up the rhythms of household management. In fact, the more chaotic a household is (lacking routines), the more challenging it can be for the children to decipher and learn the steps involved in self-care and household management.
Some families have routines for meals: dinner on Monday is always chicken, dinner on Tuesday is always pasta, dinner on Wednesday is always ground meat and so forth. Establishing this sort of routine makes shopping easy and routine as well (i.e. go food shopping once a week and always purchase one chicken, one type of pasta, ground meat etc.). There can be routines for making lunches, routines for getting out the door for school and routines for cleaning up toys and other messes. Routines do not have to be rigid, inflexible sets of rules and laws. They can be fun, flexible and loose. The main characteristic of a routine is that it contains certain elements that are repeated over and over again. It is the repetition that causes routines to be easily learned and applied.