Each month, Dr. Levy answers a common question he has received from professionals, caregivers and parents during three decades of pioneering work on attachment theory, treatment and training. This month he discusses the importance of family routines and rituals in building a child’s sense of belonging and strengthening family connections.
A child who has experienced trauma or neglect in early childhood finds it difficult to establish emotional and social connections that are at the heart of family life. Typically, they have established negative core beliefs about themselves and others and they find it difficult to trust and feel safe. Family routines and rituals are healing in that they increase a child’s sense of belonging. As we enter the holiday season, parents and caregivers have many opportunities to connect with their child by observing treasured family rituals and traditions together.
Routines such as eating dinner together at regular times, getting up and getting dressed in the mornings, or preparing for bed by taking a shower, brushing teeth and reading a book every night, are “patterned interactions that occur with predictable regularity in the course of everyday living.” (Kubicek 2002) Routines provide a way to accomplish a certain task and an opportunity to connect with your child. They organize family life, reinforce family identity and enhance a sense of belonging. Research has shown the benefits of family routines. According to studies in the 1990s, young children from high-risk families did better cognitively and socially and were more cooperative and compliant with teachers when caregivers provided consistent routines. It is important for parents to take an active role in daily routines because it offers an opportunity to connect in a natural and organic way.
Family rituals are emotionally meaningful and convey the message, “This is who we are; this is what it means to be part of this family.” (Fiese 2002). Rituals foster a sense of belonging and identity and are especially important for children with insecure attachments. Children from families with meaningful rituals do better academically and socially. Research shows, when rituals are disrupted or lost, children often develop behavioral and school problems.
Some family routines and rituals that enhance a sense of belonging include:
- shared family mealtime;
- enjoyable activities on the weekends, such as sports and movies;
- family vacations;
- celebrations, such as birthdays, anniversaries and reunions;
- religious holidays; and
- cultural traditions that recognize ethnic roots, such as gatherings, camps and preparing ethnic foods together.
Additional Benefits of Routines and Rituals
In addition to enhancing your child’s sense of belonging, here are some benefits of having family routines and rituals:
- organized family life through structure and predictability;
- defined roles and responsibilities;
- reinforced family identity;
- contributions to family stability;
- strengthened parent-child bonds;
- internalized morality, beliefs and values of the family;
- improved emotional self-control through safety and comfort;
reduced stress through predictability; and
- increased trust and sense of security.
Previous articles addressed questions about the Seven Functions of Secure Attachment, the Dependency Paradox, the importance of talking about trauma, the First Year Attachment Cycle, traits of successful and healthy adult relationships, the importance of hope as a part of treatment for trauma and the core concepts of child development.