From favorite holiday meals to a special hug at the end of the day, you may not even realize how many rituals you share with your family—or how meaningful they are to your child. Rituals give kids of all ages a sense of consistency, identity, and connection that they can carry with them into adulthood.
Barbara Fiese, professor and director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has spent decades researching the effect of rituals on children. "[Rituals] are very important today because they provide a way to disconnect from a hectic and screen-driven world," Fiese says.
Unlike routines—which are also important for kids—rituals have symbolic meaning. Routines are structured activities focused on what needs to be done at a specified time, whereas rituals convey something deeper about a family's identity.
Psychologically, Fiese says, rituals "provide symbolic connections between repeated behaviors that have strong emotional elements. Over time, we create images of these gatherings, events or even recurring sayings that are connected to emotions."
"When we recall these events, we also experience the emotions as well," she adds. "It's like a holding a snapshot in your mind while also getting a rush of the emotion that went along with the brief moment."
Here are some specific ways rituals can help children feel more secure.
Ready to create some rituals of your own? Fiese says you shouldn't overthink it too much. "Very small rituals can have just as powerful an effect as large, elaborate ones," she says. "Indeed, if you work too hard at it, then you are likely going to be too stressed and then undo some of the positive effects."
She suggests looking out for small ways to incorporate rituals into your family calendar, like pizza Thursday or game night Saturdays. "Think about the routines you already engage in or the areas you have the most value around," Springs adds. "Then, add in elements of ritual—consistency, the telling of a meaningful story, significant objects or action, and togetherness."