Time to Be Together: Regular Family Routines Give Kids Structure, Attention and Lasting Memories (page 3)
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.”
Easy ritual ideas
- Talk to your child about a shared interest, like insects, music, or building.
- Have a consistent Friday night movie date.
- Play the child’s favorite game or let him or her choose a game to play with you.
Bay Area mother Julianne Idleman doesn’t always have a set idea of what she and her daughter are going to do during their special time. “That’s how I ended up with orange stripes in my hair,” she says. “My daughter got extra special time for getting accepted on the gymnastics team and she wanted to dye our hair. She got purple and yellow stripes and I just got the orange stripes. It’s important for there to be clear ending times for adults too,” she adds.
“We do a Friday night movie night with their grandma,” says Rockefeller. “It’s a fun night and we try to be really structured, so they can look forward to it. It helps us stay involved with them.”
Idleman, who is also the program director for the Parent Leadership Institute, encourages building rituals around difficult times of the day. “If bedtime is hard, have special time right at the beginning of bedtime. When there is a new child or when a child is hospitalized, the (special) time can be almost therapeutic. Let them tell you how they are, what they’re dealing with, and what they’re feeling. Don’t answer the phone, pick up, clean, instruct, or direct. Just be with them for the amount of time you set.”
Let kids lead
“(During these special times) do play listening. Have pillow fights, rearrange the furniture to have sock fights where the kids win and the adults lose. It’s a golden time where the kids decide what to do,” says Patty Wipfler.
“These special times put the child in charge, it shifts the power. Adults follow what the child wants to do. Love every idea they have,” says Idleman.
Why it’s important
Family rituals aren’t necessarily about what you do, they are more about doing things together. Keyser shows how simple it can be. “(During our time together) I just ask the kids, ‘What was good in your day? What was hard?’ It builds structure, and kids will remember it.”
“(Creating family rituals) allows kids and parents to spend time together, to connect and share significant events,” she adds. “It creates structure that the kids look forward to and look back on. It provides an opportunity to share meaning and values. How we spend our time conveys our beliefs to our kids.”
...for special family time:
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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