Beyond The Morning Routine: 5 Rituals That Can Change You And Your Family (For The Better)

You’ve got routines down pat, but could rituals make your family closer and happier too?

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Remember the rituals you loved most as a kid? Did you listen to the same holiday radio station at exactly 7 p.m. every day in December? Or spend Friday evenings sitting around the dining room table reciting the kiddush? You might even be carrying around some of those rituals with you now, repeating them daily, weekly, or just once a year. We tend to get caught up in routines when the kids arrive: bedtime routines, morning routines, teeth-brushing routines. They’re steps we take every day that help us keep all the plates we’re juggling way up in the air, but they don’t tend to take a lot of thought. We do them. We move on. Rituals, on the other hand, stick with us. They take thought to do and put us in another frame of mind entirely. And the rituals you start now will likely stick with your kids for the rest of their lives. Even better? There’s solid science out there that shows these rituals help us through tough times and ward off “negative emotions” such as stress and anxiety. In a stressful world, who couldn’t use an extra ounce of armor against negative emotions? We certainly can, and our kids could too. But getting stressed out about how to pick a ritual to develop with the kids would defeat the purpose of all that stress relief, right? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Try some of these options on for size to find one that works for your family.

Remember it.

Rituals don’t have to be long, drawn-out affairs. They just have to be repeated actions that are done with mindfulness. One easy but effective ritual? Go around the dinner table each night and ask each member of the family to talk about one good thing that happened during their day. Repeating the practice will help make it stick, but the practice itself can help re-focus everyone in the family on the positives in life. Don’t always get to eat dinner together? That’s life! But similar practices can be done any time of the day. Try asking everyone in the family for one thing they’re excited about at breakfast time!

Try it.

We all depend on our routines, but if you’re caught in a rut, a ritual might pull you out. Think about it: When’s the last time you tried to make something different for dinner? Tried to shop at a new grocery store? Did anything…new? Spice up your family’s life and create a ritual with a “try it” day. Pick one day of the week when you and the kids try something new, whether it’s an activity or a food. Not only will you create a practice that the kids can take with them into adulthood, you’ll teach your kids not to get complacent.

Walk it.

We all mean to fit exercise into our lives, but somehow that 5 a.m. yoga class doesn’t sound quite as attractive when you were up until 2 a.m. sewing a costume for “dress like an old person day” at your kid’s school. Make movement a ritual with a daily (if possible) or weekly walk with the family. Just 15 or 20 minutes of walking and talking is all it takes.  

Book it.

Reading with our kids is often part of the bedtime routine, and it can be a bit mindless when you’ve just read If You Give a Moose a Muffin for the thousandth time. But choosing a book that’s got special meaning and reading it just once a year can become a ritual that your family repeats again and again. Whether it’s picking a chapter book that you read over the course of a month, every single year, or reading a special holiday-themed favorite every December, the mix of repetition and reading is both ritual and a chance to push the love of reading. Win–win!

Theme it.

Take a page out of the PTA fundraiser book and make theme nights your ritualistic friend. Pick a country once a year that your kids will learn about via books, plan a dinner around the country’s cuisine, and watch a movie set there. Or throw out the educational element (yes, it’s okay to just have fun) and make one night a month all about a favorite film, with eats centered on the movie and the whole family indulging in a quotefest.  

Jeanne Sager
Jeanne Sager is a writer and photographer from upstate New York. She has strung words together for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and more.