Time to Be Together: Regular Family Routines Give Kids Structure, Attention and Lasting Memories
Ever since last year, when their eight-year-old son Christopher asked if they could stop eating dinner around the television and instead share one meal a week together as a family, Oakland mother Trina Rockefeller and her husband have discovered the power of family rituals.
“On Wednesday nights we come to the table dressed, with our shoes on and our hair combed, like we’re going out to dinner,” she says. “There are no phone calls, no cell phones, nothing for an hour, from six to seven. We use our nice dishes and take turns setting the table and saying the prayer.”
Rockefeller immediately noticed the benefits of the scheduled times with the kids. “It helps the kids learn manners, but we try to keep it fun. Christopher even reminds me not to put my elbows on the table. It is a great way to talk to each other and a great time to make decisions. My daughter wanted to go to a Friday night dance, so my husband and I talked about it over dinner. My son and daughter are able to relate without fighting. There’s nothing we can’t tackle over dinner time.”
Times to connect
Patty Wipfler, director of Hand in Hand Parenting, encourages parents to set a pattern of family time the kids can look forward to. “You are connecting around an activity, so the business of life just falls away during that hour or half-hour. Parents are pulled in 15 different directions, and that (pattern) gives them times to connect.”
It doesn’t have to be a whole hour. “Parents need to do what works for them,” says Wipfler. The point is that “a kid gets undivided time. It could be only five minutes; the important thing is that the child can depend on it. For some parents a schedule works, for others, it doesn‘t. Make a promise and keep it. Follow through, even if it‘s not always at the same time.”
Five-to-ten-minute ritual ideas
- Give the child a backrub before bed every night.
- Talk for an uninterrupted ten minutes.
- Read a short story or series of poems together.
Lidia Sotero, who lives in Goleta, near Santa Barbara, bonds with her three kids with simple routines. “We eat breakfast together every day and I try to read to them for 15 to 20 minutes,” she says. “If I can’t do it every day, sometimes it’s just a couple of times a week. It‘s important for us to interact as a family and I think the kids enjoy the stories.”
“ Reading was very important,” adds Rockefeller. “Watching my kids backward, I see how it impacted them. My now-28-year-old son uses a book, Frog and Toad, as a metaphor for life. When the kids were young we used to tell them stories about their own lives, about when they were little kids.”
Santa Cruz mother Janis Keyser raised both her children with family ritual routines. “Cooking together was really important. It helped lay down patterns for our relationship, and time we expected to spend together. Even when the kids were teens, cooking was something we knew how to do together. It allowed us to have space together.”
Keyser liked to share activities that allowed for conversation. “We often think of rituals as candles and things of enormous significance. But kids remember patterns and it is so important to carve out that time. The time before bed is key too. One time my daughter said ‘I want to talk to you just before I go to sleep.’ I thought, ‘I want to be there for that!’ It’s hard when parents are tired, but it’s important.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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