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By Salita Brown – June 2, 2020 –

Has your family enjoyed more time together, including family meals, during the pandemic? Before the worldwide health crisis, many families had seen the demands of everyday life cause a decline in traditional sit-down family dinners. Many families run from activity to activity, and it seems as though this family tradition from the past no longer seems relevant.

So, before some of us remove this ritual from our lives completely, let’s stop and discuss the true importance of family dinners.

For many years family dinners were a part of daily life in the household. These dinners represented much more than a time of sustenance. They were a time to unwind and reconnect as a family over a good meal. They took place at the family dinner table with face-to-face communication and no technology. They reminded families what was really important – EACH OTHER!

In recent years, researchers have found that family dinners promote healthy development in youth. They provide a connection to important family and cultural rituals, which can be beneficial to a youth’s mental health.

These face-to-face interactions between parents and their children facilitate communication, which in turn helps parents guide their children’s behavior. According to the website stanfordchildrens.org, youth in families that regularly engage in family meals are about half as likely to need treatment for depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems compared to their peers.

Additionally, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) reported findings for children that had frequent family dinners compared to peers that did not. Benefits for youth that had frequent family dinners included:

  • less likely to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs
  • less likely to have friends who use illegal drugs
  • better school performance
  • less likely to report tension among family members
  • greater communication among family members

Of course every family is different, and the process of gathering the whole family every night over a meal may not be possible. For these families I would recommend finding at least one day a week that can be devoted to having a family meal, and that meal does not have to be dinner. Family meals can occur over breakfast, lunch or even at a restaurant or the park during an outing to the store. Choose whatever works best for your family.

So, what if a family is not good at initiating positive communication during family dinners? For those families I would recommend creating a conversation jar. A conversation jar can include a variety of questions and topics that can be discussed during the meal. Each time you eat, have a family member select and read a question and give everyone a chance to answer.

To encourage youth to feel more buy-in for this activity, begin with easy and silly questions. As the weeks go by, add in more serious, thought-provoking questions. Just take steps to ensure the dinner never turns into a blame game and no one ever leaves feeling down and defeated.

Now you know the importance of family dinners as a positive tool for your children’s development. As we slowly return to our normal routines, let’s try to find time to continue traditional family dinners, gathering our families together and engaging in positive communication over a good meal. Bon Appétit!

By Deena Bodine, LCSW – March 10, 2020 –

We live in a society that glamorizes busyness. Our calendars are full, but we may be left feeling less than fulfilled at the end of the day.

We spend our days busy with work and parenting responsibilities, squeezing in time for maintaining a household requiring chores and upkeep. Often we forget to slow down and enjoy the little moments. We seem to have an expectation that if we work hard now it will allow us to relax and enjoy life later. 

We are fooling ourselves. Life really is about the little things. And in our busy world, those small moments of joy and connection matter. While we may not be able to slow our world or eliminate tasks from our calendar, we can take steps to increase the moments that matter and remind ourselves of what is truly important. 

One way to do this is through family rituals. Developing family rituals can help ensure that we have impactful, shared experiences amid the everyday busyness of our lives. Family rituals and traditions are the basis for creating family culture. Through family culture we encourage nurturing bonds between siblings and parents and develop a sense of belonging, with the bonus of creating a memorable childhood. 

Family rituals can be simple daily, weekly, or seasonal traditions that your family looks forward to. The rituals do not need to be expensive or extravagant.  A bedtime routine of dinner, a bath, and reading a book while snuggling can be a simple and encouraging ritual. Selecting a phrase or gesture (the “I love you” sign is an example) to use in greetings or goodbyes is another no-cost, low time-commitment idea. 

Another ritual idea includes implementing a weekly (or more frequent) family dinner where all family members are encouraged to disconnect from TV, cell phones, and computers and reconnect with one another. This is a great opportunity to incorporate a conversation jar with prompts for all members to help start the discussion. 

Another idea is to start a family gratitude journal where each member adds one thing they appreciate on a daily or weekly basis. Reviewing those entries at the end of the month can be entertaining as well. 

As children grow older, implementing a regular family meeting can provide an outlet to discuss activities and events that need to be included on the family calendar (tests, practices, dance classes, sleepovers, etc.) and can also provide an avenue for conversations about chores, allowances or other tough topics. You can also add seasonal rituals such as apple picking, hiking, decorating cookies, building a snowman, or planting a garden. 

There are so many possibilities for family rituals, and this could be a great opportunity for all members to provide suggestions (i.e. each member chooses an activity for “Sunday Funday”). The important part of the ritual is less about what you are doing and more about doing it together as a family. 

For more family ritual ideas, please visit the Youth First Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/YouthFirstInc/  to find suggestions and add your family’s favorite.

By Sarah Postlewaite, Courier & Press, March 17, 2017 –

It’s no secret that all families are busy.  Besides homework, many families have music or sports practices, performances, club meetings and games.  In most families, one or both parents work while the kids and the parents are involved in various activities.

Our days and years go by so fast we hardly have time to breathe.  When we look back at the week, sometimes it’s hard to remember if the whole family spent any quality time together.

I grew up in a large, busy family, but I do remember having lots of quality time with both my parents and siblings.  My parents placed importance on family rituals. These rituals really shaped my childhood and were so ingrained in me that I now try to make them central to my own family.

Family rituals are important to the health and well-being of today’s families trying to juggle the busy demands of work, home and social lives.  Family rituals are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.

One of the more common rituals is family dinnertime, sharing a family meal together one or more nights a week with no phones, electronics or other distractions.  Bedtime is also a great time to start a ritual, especially with smaller children.  Parents and children can end the night reading books, telling stories or sharing one good thing that happened that day.

Another option is choosing a day of the week that is less busy for your family and making that a “family day/night.”  When the weather is nice our family takes a Sunday night walk together or discusses the upcoming week over a small family meeting.

Of course there are always holidays and birthdays built in throughout the year that can be celebrated and made into special events with little money spent.

Whatever you choose to do with your family, just make sure the rituals created are tailored to the needs, attitudes, personalities and limitations of your family.  Try to work within the framework of your “real” life as much as possible.  Creating something that is tailored to your family life will help these rituals stay consistent, enjoyable and lasting.

Family rituals also give children a sense of belonging and validation.  They promote a sense of identity in the child, which will later serve as a basis for adult development.

The importance of recurring family rituals, from the simple decision to enforce an attendance policy for evening meals to more complex family gatherings cannot be over emphasized.

If we look at the possibilities in ritualizing some of our current family experiences, we begin to see ourselves, our families and our time with them in a different light.  Through the use of rituals we can help ourselves find extra time with our family that we may be missing.

Fireworks

By Lisa Cossey, MSW, Courier & Press, June 14, 2016 –

With the Fourth of July around the corner, it is nice to look forward to time with family and friends and participate in ongoing family traditions.

A family tradition is something that is recreated, year after year. Every July Fourth, my family hosts a party filled with food, games and fireworks.

Each year at Halloween, my husband’s family gathers and spends an evening going to haunted houses. Perhaps it is not a typical family tradition, but it is one their family looks forward to and has enjoyed for years. One of my good friends and her family observe the less frightful tradition of camping on Halloween weekend each year.

Another tradition in my own family that I look forward to is gathering in my mother’s kitchen to bake pies and other desserts for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. A good time is always had by all, and now that my own children are getting older, they are involved in the baking as well.

Families which share in their own traditions provide a sense of comfort and security, especially for the children involved. Children love routine and consistency, something a family tradition provides year after year. It also helps children manage any losses or changes in the year and gives them something to look forward to.

In addition, family traditions enhance family and personal well-being and can also add to the family identity. Strong family bonds are created and reinforced with traditions that are upheld and maintained.

As children grow and mature, traditions can also be altered to accommodate the family’s needs. For example, perhaps a family with young children has a tradition of singing Christmas carols around their Christmas tree. As the children age, the tradition could evolve into caroling around their neighborhood.

Family traditions don’t have to be formal, fancy or costly. They don’t even have to revolve around the holidays. You can share in a family tradition any day or time of the year.

If baking together for the holidays is not your favorite activity, perhaps your family would enjoy taking a walk every Christmas morning or exchanging “white elephant” gifts during your celebrations. Traditions are what you choose to make them.

Other ideas to create family traditions include:

  • Reading a book aloud, such as “The Night Before Christmas,” before opening Christmas gifts
  • Having a weekly or monthly family movie night
  • Holding a yearly family talent show
  • Creating crafts together
  • Making candy, baking or preparing meals together
  • Taking an annual vacation or family camping trip
  • Having your own family sporting tournament, with a traveling trophy to be awarded to the winning family each year

No matter what your family’s traditions are or what your family chooses to create, just having something for all family members to look forward to each year is important. Traditions help create warm, positive memories that can be recalled fondly and draw family members back to one another year after year.