When we think of tradition, we often think of outdated formalities that leave no room for personal preference. But before you write off that perennial night at the bowling alley, consider this: traditions work to tie families together and create a sense of continuity. The reality is that we have the ability to create the traditions that are right for our families – whether that means a weekly movie night or a yearly Thanksgiving feast. The new year is a good time to establish, or reinstate, some of your family's very own traditions. Need some ideas to get you started? Here are eight to consider adopting in the new year.

  1. You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: study after study has shown that kids who regularly eat dinner with their parents have bigger vocabularies, earn better grades, are less likely to do drugs, and less likely to be overweight than kids who don’t. Get out your calendars and make family dinners a regular part of your schedule in the New Year.
  2. The family that plays together stays together. If dinner is usually followed by a mass exodus to the television, laptop, and telephone, it’s time to pull the plug. There are board games and card games for every age and temperament, as well as creative games like charades and active games like Twister, hide’n’seek, and ring-around-the rosy. Your teens may groan, but which are they more likely to look back on nostalgically - time spent staring at the television, or time spent trouncing mom at Monopoly?
  3. If getting fit is your New Year’s resolution, you’re in good company. Want to kill two birds with one stone? Include your child in your shape-up plan, and you’ll not only improve your health (studies have shown that those who exercise with others tend to stick with it longer), but also lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy physical activity for your child. No, you don’t need to drag your kindergartener to the gym. Just make a commitment to play together actively almost every day: go sledding, swimming, bounce on a trampoline, build a snowman, or just bundle up and go for a brisk walk.
  4. If there’s one truism every parent knows, it’s that time flies. The baby you held yesterday is a student now and will be on his own before you know it. You can’t catch time in a bottle, but you can watch it go. Pick a spot that you know will be around for a long time, like a door in your house, and take a picture of your child standing there every year at the same time. In the future, she’ll be amazed to see how she grew and the door shrank.
  5. Another way to capture the moment? Make a time capsule every year. Buy an inexpensive glass or plastic container and ask each family member to contribute something that symbolizes his or her year: ticket stubs from the trip to Disneyland, a class photo, the front page of the newspaper. Hide the time capsule in your basement or bury it outside for retrieval in twenty years.
  6. Give of yourselves. Sit down together as a family and pick a charity to support with a portion of allowance, after-school jobs and the household budget, or, better yet, seek out a volunteer opportunity you can all do together. (One place to start: www.volunteermatch.org.) When you establish a tradition of helping others, you pass along positive moral values and teach your child to appreciate what he has.
  7. Host an economic summit. This year, the news probably won’t be great. But by introducing your child to the ins and outs of the family budget and the larger economy, you’re putting her on the path to a strong financial future.
  8. Give yourselves the gift of time. While dance recitals and soccer games are part of modern life, it’s often time spent lounging and running in the backyard that we remember most fondly. This year, set aside some time – one day per week or per month – when the entire family says no to other commitments and just hangs out together.