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Creating family traditions

Published on: October 01, 2008

You’ve just finished reading One Fish, Two Fish for the fourth time and immediately hear “Again! Again!” Structure, repetition and rituals are vital to preschoolers. They offer rooted stability and comfort to little souls who spread their wings wide every day. With families being busier than ever before, traditions — or rituals — are both more important and more challenging.

Some families have rituals as simple as special words shared at bedtime. Preschool is a great time to get started. “For whatever traditions you have or want to start, ages 3–5 are a good time to begin,” says local parent educator Jan Faull. “They will serve you now and down the road.” Start your little rituals now, and they may be a cherished part of your family life well into those surly teen years.

Family dinnerStability and values

Faull believes that traditions solidify the family unit and ground the child: “This is who I am and what I do.” This also gives kids something to hold onto whenever their world feels shaky. One of the best stabilizing traditions is the family dinner. “If there is a magic bullet, it is having dinner together as a family,” says Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals. A Columbia University survey showed that teenagers who eat with their families at least five times per week are more likely to get better grades in school and much less likely to have substance abuse problems.

But if family dinners don’t work for you, don’t despair. Maybe your tradition is gathering around the breakfast table. The meal itself doesn’t have to be elaborate; it could even be take-out. The goal is to provide a secure, predictable tradition in which you spend time together as a family.

Products such as Table Topics conversation starters are great ways to stimulate discussion and sharing. You could even compose your own questions. The exchanges provide learning and convey your family’s values. In fact, just taking turns and using good manners communicate your values.

It is often the little things that children remember and count on. Family game night is a popular way to set aside family time, have fun together and build memories. Our family makes popcorn and reads the Sunday comics every week after church. Each December our children look forward to one evening when they can wear their pajamas and drink hot cocoa in the car while we tour the holiday lights.

Ease transitions

Traditions can also help to ease transitions. Patti and her two children have a tradition of going out to a special place for ice cream after the first and last days of school. She says, “On the first day of school, it allows each of us to talk about our days and experiences. While the kids eat ice cream, I go through paperwork and fill out forms. The last day of school, the outing is more of a celebration. We sometimes see other families or kids we know, but we always have our own table to make sure this is our special time together.”

Here’s a sweet tradition for preschoolers: Read The Kissing Hand and adopt the touching tradition that Mrs. Raccoon shares. On the first day of preschool, “Mrs. Raccoon took Chester’s left hand and spread open his tiny fingers into a fan. Leaning forward, she kissed Chester right in the middle of his palm.” She said, “Whenever you feel lonely and need a little loving from home, just press your hand to your cheek.”

My children and I have tea time as a way to come back together after preschool, day care, school and work. It helps us reconnect and make the transition into the evening hours for dinner, homework and ultimately, bedtime. We play “two truths and a lie” to share about each of our days while eating a mutually agreed-upon snack to ward off late-afternoon crankiness.

Life is full of transitions, from the small ones like day into evening, to the beginning of kindergarten, to puberty. Think about what purpose you want the tradition to serve, be creative and design something that easily fits into your lifestyle. Since the idea is to repeat traditions over and over, keep it simple so that it is sustainable.

Out with the old?

Susan Abel Lieberman, author of New Traditions, points out that it is possible to outgrow traditions. You may want to keep certain cherished ones while others just aren’t realistic for your lifestyle. Perhaps the idea of cooking a huge turkey for Thanksgiving sounds daunting, or someone has become a vegetarian. So instead, you take a trip to a mountain cabin and eat spaghetti by the fire. This is the perfect time to begin creating family traditions that work for you.

Beth Herrild is a local writer, consultant, and mother of three children ages 14, 11 and 8. Her Web site is


New Traditions: Redefining Celebrations for Today’s Family by Susan Abel Lieberman

The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holiday and Everyday by Meg Cox

The Joy of Family Traditions: A Season-by-Season Companion to 400 Celebrations and Activities by Jennifer Trainer Thompson

The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier and Happier by Miriam Weinstein

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Table Topics conversation starters by Table Topics

In a Jar series of cards by Free Spirit Publishing


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