Family Rituals are those activities, interactions or behaviours that you intentionally choose, mindfully engage in and mark as symbolically meaningful or sacred for you as a family.
Family Routines, also an important function of family life, include those activities, interactions or behaviours that we engage in that have a predictable structure and rhythm that serve a specific function in family life.
Here are 2 examples:
Family Ritual: Sunday dinner with good china, extended relatives and a special meal. The gathering may commence with a speech or prayer or other ritual marking the occasion as sacred; perhaps lighting a special candle, saying a communal prayer or mantra, or each person saying something that is important to them.
Family Routine: Eating at the kitchen table each night at 6pm with all available members of the immediate family.
Rituals tend to be practiced on special occasions, whereas routines are daily practices. Rituals also tend to be fondly anticipated because they are ‘special’, whereas routines provide us with the comfort of structure. This structure helps children to regulate their own internal clocks, learning what ‘happens next’, ie. after bath each night there is a story, before dinner each night is grace, etc. According to Dr. Bailey (author of "I Love You Rituals”), the goal of routines is continuity, whereas the goal of rituals is connection.
While both are important in family life, I want to focus on Rituals, and in particular “I LOVE YOU Rituals” that promote love, acceptance, and attachment.
Here are four outcomes of performing “I LOVE YOU Rituals”: (Bailey, 2000)
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about and fostering these practices with your family. This book is outstanding, both in its simplicity and practicality. I’m providing a few ‘factoids’ from the book, though I believe every family should own a copy (or borrow one from the library).
1) Optimize your child’s brain function for success at school and in life:
I love you rituals help your child’s brain to create dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps with focus, motivation and positive emotions, in particular, connection to others. When children are unfocused or tuned out, dopamine levels lower, which can lead to ‘meandering behaviour problems'. Think of the child who wanders from thing to thing, unsatisfiable and bereft of positive feelings.
2) Increase learning potential and effectiveness through touch:
A very special chemical called ‘nerve growth factor’ is released through touch. This hormone is critical to neural function and learning. The brain and skin are developed from the same embryonic tissue, and are therefore inextricably linked. Children thrive with loving touch, and wither without it. Dr. Bailey believes these rituals are potent and powerful and she describes how using these I LOVE YOU Rituals with her grandmother who suffers from dementia awakened her through the use of loving touch.
3) Create loving rituals that hold families together even through the roughest times:
The power of noticing, describing and appreciating children shifts our attention from getting ahead to getting together with our families. These rituals can take but a few moments, though create a long lasting attitude of attachment, calm and connection. For example, imagine being a bit late to pick up your child from preschool. You arrive frazzled and greet your child with your ‘hurry up, we’re late’ attitude as you need to run a few more errands before supper. I think we can all relate to this energy. Imagine if instead, as Dr. Bailey suggests, you greet your child with this ritual: “There you are. I’ve been waiting all day to hug you. Let me see what you brought from school. You brought those brown eyes. You brought that cute little mole on your arm. You brought your backpack and coat. Let’s go”. You can see how infusing just a few well thought out sentences that focus on noticing, describing and appreciating your child can change the entire tenor of the rest of the day.
4) Strengthen the bond between adults and children that insulates children from drugs, violence and peer pressure, laying the foundation for mental and emotional health:
The bond between the parent and child is the child’s primary source of emotional health and gives your child the capacity to have satisfying and resourceful relationships the rest of their lives. A weak or anxious bond could reverberate throughout your child’s entire life in the form of low self esteem, impaired relationships or the inability to ask for help when needed. Secure attachment happens in small, subtle and consistent loving interactions, especially those that notice, describe and appreciate your child without criticism, judgement or bribes.
Hopefully I’ve borrowed enough persuasive facts from this wonderful book to convince you to give I LOVE YOU Rituals a try. I’ll provide you with a few activity ideas to perform with your child, though I urge you to consider finding this book and doing more than just a few.
I LOVE YOU RITUAL ACTIVITIES:
1) Changing the words of a popular children’s rhyme:
Consider how you feel when you hear this children’s rhyme:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do, she gave them broth without any bread, and whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Now, how might you feel if you perform this activity with your child:
Have your child sit in your lap. Wrap your arms around the child and hold onto one hand. Say the words that are in CAPITAL LETTERS:
THERE WAS A WOMAN WHO LIVED IN A SHOE
As you say the line, give your child’s hand a deep hand massage
SHE HAD SO MANY CHILDREN
Touch each finger on one hand as you say each word in the line.
SHE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO
Begin touching the fingers on the other hand
SHE HELD THEM
Hold your child’s hands lovingly
SHE ROCKED THEM
Rock your child’s hands from side to side
AND TUCKED THEM INTO BED
Press the child’s hand against her chest, in a slight hug
I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU IS WHAT SHE SAID
Say these words lovingly to your child and give them a big hug
2) Good Night Elbow!
Tell your child “I’m going to say goodnight to your ears, your hair, your forehead, your eyebrows, your shoulders and your elbows”. Continue down the child’s body, saying goodnight to as many parts as you want to. Each time you say goodnight to a body part, touch that part. Each touch involves a gentle massage, helping your child to relax as well as emptying your mind of clutter and being totally present with your child.
In the morning, especially if you have a child that is slow to stir awake, repeat this activity with good morning. It will provide a loving way into the day, and truly only takes a few moments of time.
3) Walk and Stop
I’ve been folding this activity into Itty Bitty Yoga. This game will be familiar to your child already, so may be a great place to start. I’m sure you can think of your own variations. Be sure to have eye contact with your child, and animate your face. Both of these gestures help to create secure attachment.
Sing or chant the following words with any tune that works for you: “You walk and you walk and you walk and you walk and… STOP! When you say stop, bring your body to quick halt. Your child will follow. Now BREATHE. Take a deep full breath with your child. If they don’t breathe deeply, do it again until they do. They will.
Repeat with various movements that you and your child will enjoy.
Walk, Stop, Breathe.
Jump, Stop. Breathe.
Hop on 1 foot. Stop. Breathe.
Balance on 1 foot. Stop. Breathe.
Walk backwards. Stop. Breathe.
Final thoughts… In-Joy.
Bailey, B. (2000). I love you rituals: Fun activities for parents and children. New York, NY: William Morrow