Think about your childhood and the times when you had the most fun with your family. Most of the time, these memories will be about a ritual you did with your parents, siblings, or other family members. Did you and your uncle have a special way to shake hands? Before you left your grandma’s house, did she always give you a dollar? Did you always go to the movies on Friday nights? No matter what you did, it had an effect. It made you feel like you were a part of your family and made them like you more. As a parent, you should make sure to give your kids the same experience by making rituals with them.
IMPORTANT: It’s your job as a parent to start the ritual. But give your kids the job of coming up with the actual ritual. Getting them involved in making the ritual will make it much more likely that they will stay interested in it and not complain about it.
1 – Family dinners that change places
Okay, having dinner with the whole family isn’t a new idea. But that’s not necessary! Change things up by putting a different family member in charge of dinner once a week. They decide what to eat, help make it, and can even decorate if they want to. This gets kids used to doing chores, making their own food, and making their own traditions for the family. Plus, you know that at least one child will enjoy the food that night.
2 – Rotating Movie Nights
For family movie night, let each person in the family choose what to watch, just like at dinner. It’s a good idea to make a “no complaining” rule for everyone, including adults so that your kids won’t be afraid to talk about what they like and what they think. Sure, not everyone will like all of the movies that are chosen. But it’s important to know how to respect everyone’s choices and do things that other people enjoy.
3 – Night of Games
Game nights are good in a lot of ways. They teach how to work as a team, solve problems, and be a good winner or loser. But depending on the family, game nights can get pretty crazy. Before you pull out the Monopoly board, try to remember these things.
- Put younger, less experienced players with older, more experienced ones. Try to make sure that each team is as even as you can.
- Let winning teams be happy, but don’t let them brag. Just shake hands and go. If they go too far, you should call them out and make them say they’re sorry. (This also applies to adults.)
- It’s the same when you lose. People can be sad, and they might even need a moment to deal with their emotions, but always bring them back to shaking hands with the winners and being happy for them. Tell people to stop being too sad, and don’t let them give up if they can see they’re going to lose.
4 – Annual Days That Aren't Holidays
Find ways to celebrate that are fun and good for the whole family that isn’t federally recognized holidays.
- Visit a place you’ve been to before. Add to the new ones by making new ones. Call it “Day at the Lake,” “Day at the Theme Park,” or “Day to Hike Up a Mountain.”
- Find unofficial holidays that are important to you and your family and celebrate them every year. For example, on May 4, watch “Star Wars,” and on September 19, talk like a pirate.
- Did something bad happen in the past that your family keeps telling you over and over again? Celebrate it! “The Minivan Broke Down Day” or “We Survived a Terrible Camping Trip Day” can all be celebrated with an honorary activity and a story about the bad thing that happened. Watch as it brings everyone together in a strange way.
5 – The Duty of Shopping
Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be boring. Give your child or children a list of things to find and get. Don’t just throw the child in the cart and tell them to point to what they want. Have them pick up the item and put it in the cart to get them physically involved in the task. This gives them something to do and a part to play in a task where they would be left out otherwise.
6 – Bathtime Parade
Bath time can be fun or make a child cry, depending on the child. No matter what, get your kids involved in making a song, chant, dance, or rhyme for bath time. It can make it easier for them to switch from what they are doing to cleaning up. If your child doesn’t like taking baths, this should give them a lot of room to be creative. If you as a parent are making up the song and hoping it will help, it probably won’t. Your child making up new lyrics, words, or dance moves will make things fun.
7 – Rituals at Night
Going to bed can be a chore for parents, just like taking a bath. Set up a bedtime routine that helps everyone get ready to go to sleep. Here are some things to think about.
- Dentist Robot: Instead of having your parents help you brush your teeth, you can turn yourself into a robot that is good at dental hygiene. Make the same mistakes on purpose to make them laugh about how silly you are and how much they know about their teeth.
- Book Machine: Turn yourself into a big claw machine for books. Ask your kids to choose the books they want to read and grab them automatically from the shelf.
- Bedtime Handshake: Give your kids a special handshake before you leave the room. They can make it as hard or easy as they want. It can also be different for each child, or you can decide as a family to have a “family handshake” that is unique to your group.
- Prayers or a List of Things You’re Thankful For If your family is religious, have your kids pray with you at night. If you’re not, take a moment to go over five things they’re thankful for with them.
8 – "Campouts" for Birthdays
Birthday camping trips do not need tents. All you need is a different place. Spend the night together on a “campout” to celebrate your child’s birthday, whether it’s in the basement, the living room, or the real outdoors. These can look however you’d like. You could watch a movie, tell stories, eat snacks, or roast marshmallows. Make a blanket fort, sleep in sleeping bags, or drag mattresses to the floor. You can invite friends, just invite family, or do it one-on-one. No matter what you do, it will be in honor of someone you love.
9 – Doing Chores as a Family
Set aside a morning or evening each week for “Family Chore Time.” Give everyone jobs that are right for their ages, turn on some music, and spend the morning working (and dancing!) together to clean up your house. Everyone in the family can dance, lip sync, and help make a custom playlist. It’s up to you if chores change, what happens when their list is done, or if they can find extra work they can get paid for. When you’re done, celebrate! You can choose how that will look. It could be as easy as eating lunch right away or having a scoop of ice cream.
10 – Everyday "Days of Service"
Choose a cause you care about as a family. Then, serve in a way that solves that problem every time you do it. Don’t be afraid to link your day of service to a big issue that might make you feel uncomfortable. Regular contact with the topic can help you answer any questions they might have and learn more about it in a practical way. Choose an activity that your child can do with their hands instead of a passive one that won’t keep their attention. For example, your kids will be much more interested if they help you pick out clothes for someone else than if you do it for them and then tell them about it.
This is, of course, not a complete list. It’s not a list either. Don’t worry if none of these ideas work for your family. There are a million ways to make family rituals that bring everyone together. All you have to do is think about what kinds of traditions you want to make and get your family involved in making them. So get started, and have fun!