by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.
What makes a family a family?
There are many ways to answer that question, and it will likely be different for each family.
One idea is to consider the regular activities that you do together—the activities that help to develop a sense of tradition, ritual and consistency for you and your children. It’s appropriate to consider these as you approach the holidays with your family, and they can really show up throughout the year.
Rituals help to create important reference points that give your children belonging and security. They are solid rocks upon which positive, healthy homes and relationships can be built, and they can be meaningful in any family situation.
Here are 11 family rituals—activities that have “family time” written all over them. This is by no means an exhaustive list; there’s plenty of room for traditions and pastimes that are unique for your family. Often it’s the unique activities that family members view as the most special.
Reading to and with my children was a favorite pastime in the Canfield home, especially when they were young. Today I do it with our grandkids. Sitting down with a book provided times of closeness, sharing new ideas, and making my children feel special. For all dads, it’s an especially great way to end the day.
This can be a challenge in many families since we all have our own schedules and obligations. But it’s so important to gather as often as we can to tell stories from our day, ask questions and talk through ideas. Family dinners at home are great, but don’t forget that picnics, carryout pizza or Sunday brunch can add to the togetherness.
This is more of a habit than an activity, but it’s vitally important. When you return home after work or after being gone for a while, make sure you get hugs from everyone—even if you have to hunt them down in the basement or backyard. Researchers say that everyone needs a dozen hugs per day. Make sure your kids get an overdose.
4. Playing Games
What better way to encourage your kids’ imagination, physical and mental competence, and a healthy spirit of competition? This includes peek-a-boo with an infant, football in the back yard, a family Scrabble or Battleship tournament, or trying a more recent board game like Ticket to Ride. Find something the whole family can enjoy.
5. Chores and Errands
Everyday chores help a child define his place in the family, give him an opportunity to contribute, and can provide more opportunities to spend time with him. Try asking for your child’s help for half an hour on a household project or ask him to go to the store with you for some extra time together.
Yes, food deserves two spots in this list. It’s fun to get the whole family involved in food prep. Maybe Mom puts together a casserole as only she can; your young son kneads some dough; sis tries her hand at a German chocolate cake; and you … well, maybe you oversee the grill or lick out the frosting bowl while you’re mixing up a salad. You’re all working toward a common goal. And you’ll get to enjoy the results, as well.
7. Taking Pictures
Family photographs become a powerful way to bring back memories of holidays and other significant events, as well as the feelings that went with them. And sometimes kids (and adults) do the most hilarious things when they get in front of a camera.
Those old photo albums and your kids’ baby books can serve as springboards for interesting stories from years past. Maybe you have black-and-white photos of your parents and grandparents you can look at and share some nuggets from your family history. Even better, get Grandma and Grandpa involved if they’re available. It can also be fun to tell your kids a made-up story where they’re one of the characters. Or find a good one in a book of stories.
9. Family Outings
Take a drive in the country—without cell phones—to see the cows, clouds, trees and hills. Full-blown vacations also qualify, whether the destination is Yellowstone or a nearby lake campground. Just don’t get so caught up in the destination that you forget to enjoy the trip. And remember: often the best memories come in the unexpected, low-budget excursions.
For many there’s nothing more important than attending worship services, praying together, and having faith discussions at home. If certain beliefs and values are important to you, then make sure those are reflected in your family activities.
11. Helping Others
The holidays seem to bring many opportunities to give and serve, but we can make this a more constant emphasis—whether we’re organizing a family clothes drive, getting everyone up early one Saturday a month to assemble meal packs, or whatever it may be. There are surely causes in your area that you care about. Let your kids experience the joy of giving and let them see that serving others is important to you.
Dad, it’s likely that your family is already doing a lot of these activities and rituals, and that’s commendable. You’re strengthening your family, providing important reference points for your kids, and creating memories that they’ll cherish for a long, long time.
What would you add? What kinds of traditions and rituals are meaningful in your family? Give us some feedback and examples from your family on our Facebook page.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- What are the routines, traditions, activities, and/or recipes that make your family special and unique?
- Which of the 11 rituals above is your family already doing? What’s one that you’d like to start doing more as a family?
- Find a new game for your family to play together during the holidays, next year’s vacation, or the next longer family gathering. Ask friends if you need ideas.
- Do your kids dread family picture time? Find ways to make it fun and engaging.
- Be fully engaged during time with your family. Don’t coast or let the TV, your phone or anything else distract you from being with your kids.