While I began life as an only child, I am now part of a large family. I have one husband, four grown children, two sons-in-law, and six grandchildren. That means that our family celebrates a birthday about every month or more, and I am responsible for remembering everyone’s birthday with my homemade-from-scratch secret family recipe chocolate cake! It’s become a ritual, and rituals help children answer the important question, “Where do I belong?” Children need to know which clan is their clan, what the rules of their clan are, how their clan behaves, what foods they eat, what games they play, what stories they tell, what beliefs they hold, and so on. We adults may not realize that our children are compiling this family information and letting this information brand them as members of a particular family, but they are all the time. So a questioning adult mind might ask what can be done to enhance this set of family experiences for our children. And the answer comes to us: lots and lots of things!
Of course first on the list is family dinners, my favorite branding technique! Nothing does more for a family and for all of its children than to share a meal together, every day if possible. The dinner table is where your family’s heart beats most strongly. It’s where everything your family values is presented because it’s where you all exchange ideas and beliefs, your family stories. So one thing you can do to really help your child feel secure and to gain his identity as a member of your clan is to gather together for dinner. Put a lot of rituals into this daily event by setting the stage the way you want for the drama of life to unfold. Everybody has a part as somebody cooks, somebody sets the table, somebody puts the flowers on the table, somebody carries the food to the table, somebody says a family greeting or perhaps a blessing, and the meal begins. Then the conversation takes center stage. When children are small, the talk is small and as they grow, the talk grows to important issues and ideas. Value is given to this ritual by having it happen every day; it’s important and everyone treats it as important. We all show up!
Family dinners aren’t the only ways we imprint our children. Another event that packs a lot of promise is how we celebrate special days. If your family clan celebrates birthdays, then you can create your own rituals around that. You can do so many things. You are limited only by your imagination. The birthday child can select the dinner menu for starters. A special cake can be made, served on a special birthday cake platter with the birthday child getting the first piece served on a little “today is your birthday” plate. You can adapt some of the school’s celebration of life ceremony you’ve seen done in the classrooms and have everyone sit in a circle with the birthday child in the middle. Then as you begin, each family member says something positive to the child. This could be an affirmation or a compliment for the child. Think about the language you want so you can teach your children how to give a compliment, something like, “ I would like to compliment you for helping me carry the groceries in from the car.” Remember, compliments aren’t about how you look, but instead they place importance on a value you want your clan to adopt, like helpfulness or kindness.
A third activity you can do that will strengthen your family bond is to have weekly family meetings. Children ages three or four and older can participate, especially if the meetings are brief and structured. At family meetings problems can be solved and plans can be made or announced to the children. So if daddy or mommy is going to be out of town for a day or so, this could be announced to the children at a family meeting. There could be a master calendar for the family and this could be brought to each family meeting so the family can know what’s going to happen when. Every family meeting begins with compliments for each other and ends with something fun. When children are little, meetings are short and may be only compliments and popcorn. As the children grow, meetings can grow to 20 or 30 minutes and the children can even take turns running the meetings.
Of course there are lots of rituals that each family has and many that each family doesn’t really think about but that exist. Rituals are vital to children to help them make the unknown known. You can help your child feel like she’s an important part of your family, a contributing member, and someone who has a place with the rest of your clan.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher