Think back to your childhood and your happiest memories with your family. More often than not, those memories will involve a ritual you had with your parents, siblings, or extended family. Did you have a special handshake with your uncle? Did your grandma always give you a dollar before you left her house? Were Friday nights always movie night? Whatever you did, it obviously had an effect. The ritual made you feel a part of your family and endeared you to them. As a parent, make sure to give your children the same experience by creating rituals with them.
IMPORTANT: As the parent, it’s your job to get the ritual started. However, make it your kids’ responsibility to create the actual ritual. Involving them in the creation process will make it infinitely more likely that they will stay engaged with your ritual instead of complaining about it.
1 – Rotating Family Dinners
Okay, having dinner as a family is an unoriginal idea. But it doesn’t have to be! Once a week, switch things up by making a different person in the family “in charge” of dinner. They pick the menu, help cook, and even decorate if they’d like. This gets kids in the habit of helping with chores, making their own food, and creating family rituals. Plus, you know at least one kid will be happy with the food that’s served that night 😉
2 – Rotating Movie Nights
Similar to family dinners, let each person in the family be in charge of what’s showing for family movie night. It’s a good idea to make a “no complaining” rule (adults included!) so that you kids aren’t afraid to express their interests and opinions. Sure, not everyone will like every movie that’s picked. But respecting everyone’s choices and participating in something another person enjoys are important skills to have.
3 – Game Night
Game nights provide all kinds of benefits. They teach teamwork, problem-solving, and how to be a gracious winner and loser. But game nights can get intense, depending on the family. Try to keep these things in mind before you bust out the Monopoly board.
- Pair up older, more experienced players with younger ones. Try to make each team as even as possible.
- Let teams be excited when they win, but don’t let them gloat. Shake hands and move on. If they go overboard, call them out and make them apologize. (That goes for adults, too.)
- Same goes for losing. People can most certainly be sad (and may even need a moment to deal with big feelings), but always bring them back around to shaking hands with the winners and expressing happiness that they won. Call out excessive moping, and don’t let people quit if they see they are going to lose.
4 – Yearly Non-Holidays
Find fun, family-oriented reasons to celebrate that aren’t federally recognized holidays.
- Revisit an old vacation spot. Make new memories to add to the new ones. Declare it “Lake Day,” “Theme Park Day,” or “Hike Up A Mountain Day.”
- Find unofficial holidays that would mean something to your family and participate in them each year. For example, watch “Star Wars” on May 4 or talk like a pirate on September 19.
- Did something go wrong in the past, but it’s a story that’s retold in your family over and over again? Celebrate it! “The Minivan Broke Down Day” or “We Survived a Terrible Camping Trip Day” can all be celebrated by an honorary activity and a retelling of the bad experience. Watch as it oddly brings everyone together.
5 – Shopping Duties
Going to the grocery store doesn’t have to be a bore. Give your child or children specific items to look for and pick up. And don’t just shove the child in the cart and have them point to the object on the shelf. Engage them physically in the task by having them retrieve the item and put it in the cart. This gives them something to do and a role in a task they would otherwise be left out of.
6 – Bathtime Parade
Depending on the child, bathtime can be exciting or tear-inducing. Regardless, involve your kids in making a bathtime song, chant, dance, or rhyme. It can help them with the transition from whatever they are doing to cleanup time. If your child is a reluctant bath taker, this is something that should heavily involve their creativity. If you as the parent are making up the song and expecting it to help, it probably won’t. The excitement will come from your child making up the lyrics, words, or dance moves.
7 – Nighttime Rituals
Similar to bathtime, going to bed can be a chore for parents. Create a bedtime routine that prepares everyone to settle down for the night. Here are a few ideas for you to consider.
- Dentist Robot – Instead of mom or dad assisting with brushing, transform yourself into a robot who specializes in dental hygiene. Make recurring, purposeful mistakes to get them giggling about how silly you are and how knowledgeable they are about their teeth.
- Book Machine – Become a giant claw machine for books. Ask your kids to pick the books they want to read and mechanically grab them from the bookshelf.
- Bedtime Handshake – Before you leave the room, give your children a special handshake. It can be as complex or as simple as they want it to be. It can also be unique for each child, or you can all decide to have a “family handshake” that’s special to just your family unit.
- Prayers or Gratitude List – If you are a religious family, have your children take part in nighttime prayers. If you aren’t, take a moment with them to run through five things they are thankful for.
8 – Birthday “Campouts”
No tents are required for birthday campouts. All you need is a new location. Whether it’s the basement, the living room, or the actual great outdoors, celebrate your children’s birthdays by spending the night together on a “campout.” These can look however you’d like. Eat snacks, tell stories, watch a movie, or roast marshmallows. Build a blanket fort, sleep in sleeping bags, or drag mattresses to the floor. Invite friends, make it family-only, or have them one-on-one. Whatever you decide, it will be done in celebration of someone you love.
9 – Family Chore Time
Make one morning or night of the week Family Chore Time. Give everyone age-appropriate jobs to do, crank up some music, and spend the morning working (and dancing!) together to get your home back in order. Dance, lipsync, and create a custom playlist that everyone in the family helps curate. It’s up to you on if chores rotate, what happens when their list is done, or whether or not there are opportunities for extra work they can get paid to do. When you’re done, celebrate! You can decide on what that looks like. It can be as simple as eating lunch immediately after or indulging in a scoop of ice cream.
10 – Routine “Days of Service”
As a family, pick a cause you care about. Then, regularly serve in a way that addresses that problem. Don’t be afraid to attach your day of service to a big, potentially uncomfortable topic. Regular exposure can help you answer questions they may have and engage with the topic on a practical level. Pick something that’s hands on instead of passive activities that don’t engage your child. For example, thoughtfully and intentionally picking out clothes for another person will engage your children on a much deeper level than if you did it for them and told them about it afterward.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. It’s also not a checklist. If one of these ideas doesn’t work for your family, no worries! There are infinite ways to produce rituals that will bring your family together. All you need to do is think about what kinds of rituals you want to establish and involve your family in creating them. So get started, and have fun!