Establishing Family Routines and Rituals: A Positive Roadmap for the Future

Routines and rituals give structure and direction to children and teens – all family members – as they carry out the activities of their lives. Just think: Would you start an unfamiliar journey without a GPS system or roadmap to help you find the right direction? Would you build a house without a blueprint or a strong foundation to provide a plan for your work? Would you create a garment without a pattern to provide structure to your sewing?

Routines also structure our family’s actions so that we can work and play at high efficiency and with reduced stress, anxiety and effort. They make our lives run smoothly. Rituals add meaning to our family’s activities and form the foundation of shared family experiences and values.

Routines help family matters parents structure the ‘world’ of their family and increase opportunities for positive outcomes.

Routines keep family life flowing smoothly; they serve as a basis for flexibility and help us to get our work done. Once rituals are established, they can be carried out without a great deal of effort or thought.

Like routines, rituals are activities that predictably occur and have patterns of specific behavior associated with them. Unlike routine, rituals:

  1. Give meaning and specialness to selected activities of the family.
  2. Create family traditions.
  3. Define the family as special and unique.
  4. Take thought and conscious effort to carry out.
  5. Frequently require the commitment of energy to set aside the time and create the boundaries that make the activity special.

Any regularly occurring activity of the family can be given special meaning. For example, a hug before going out of the house can be viewed as a moment set aside to share affection and attention. A special meal, family fun night, religious observances and traditions, a nighttime story, are all examples of shared activities that often have a unique meaning within the family.

Most families have rituals; some fun, some serious, but all have meaning.

Rituals allow the family to create necessary barriers between itself and the world. They serve to define the uniqueness of the family as a unit. They create family history, wellness and stories.

Rituals bring the family together in shared experiences. Generally we block out the world when we engage in ritual. Turn off the television, computer and cell phones – this is time to pay attention and to enjoy one another.

Rituals allow the family to synchronize their lives and reset the family clock. Rituals take time. They support the active connection between all family members and the development of family health as well as personal health and wellness.

Unlike routine, rituals should have a quality of comfortable inflexibility. They are the traditions families welcome. Rituals define the time of the year, periods of the week and moments of the day. Because they tend to vary little, rituals serve as beacons that give life meaning and direction.

Increasing the effectiveness of family matter routines.

The consistency and effectiveness of family routines can be dramatically increased if parents become aware and take charge of the following factors affecting their child or teen:

Level of stimulation: Children are comfortable with varying levels of excitement or boredom. Try to observe your child’s preference for stimulation and provide the level that works best (usually somewhere between being bored and excited). Routines help children to maintain comfortable levels of stimulation. Avoid activities which generate stress, depression and anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity or other stress related or induced effects on children.

Think of the stimulation level as an antecedent factor that strongly influences the behavior of all family members.

Level of individual, personal attention: Children usually perform best when given a high degree of individual attention. Think of personal attention level as a factor in the child’s world that strongly influences behavior. Routines reduce the amount of adult attention children require to carry out their work.

Level of task difficulty: Some children like the challenge of new tasks and some do not enjoy being challenged at all. Be aware of your child’s comfort zones. For children who do not like challenges, break up new tasks into small steps. Gradually introduce the child to each new step. Step by step, the child will become comfortable learning and performing the desired behavior. Routines help children make new activities ‘old hat’.

Internal body levels: A child’s body is like a finely tuned machine. You can increase the chance of better and more consistent performance if you monitor the body states of your child, for example: fatigue, hunger, wellness, bowel and bladder functioning.  Routines help children to get their work done when their body states may not be at optimal levels. Stress, anxiety, agitation should all be fairly easy to recognize – monitor children accordingly to reduce these types of stressors.

Levels of reward: Children will tolerate more discomfort, accept more challenge, extend their range of acceptable stimulation and require less personal attention if they believe they will receive something of value in return. Parents can ‘set the stage’ for more consistent, positive behavior by matching the level of reward to the level of difficulty and being aware of personal attention, level of stimulation and body state. Routines allow children to function longer and more easily with lower levels of regular reward. Periodic reward will keep routines flowing smoothly.

Creating and Changing Routine: Small Steps to Family Matters Success

Children learn new behavior as a result of direct teaching, model and observation. They also learn by watching and imitating what they see. Some new behavior results from the unfolding of the child’s biological and psychological development. For many children, the easiest way to learn a new routine or behavior, or to change an old routine or old behavior, is to break that pattern into small, easily managed chunks. Use this strategy when the old routine is very strong, when a new task has many steps, or when the task appears to be very hard for your child to accomplish.

– by Frank Doberman, PhD

Dr. Frank Doberman is Co-Founder of Karner Psychological Associates (KPA) and is a leader in the fields of clinical psychology, is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified in School Psychology, Educational Administration and is a regular contributor to News 10 WTEN.

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