The importance of family traditions

By ParentTV on 22 Dec 2018
Categories: General Parenting

This post was written by psychologist Dr Justin Coulson

“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.”– Susan Lieberman

Ben and Tracy Groves love Sundays. Every week, Ben gets up early and takes the two kids to the local café for hot chocolates or milkshakes for breakfast, while Tracy gets to sleep in. On the way home they stop at the park for some playtime. If it’s wet, they come home and play board games or card games. And Ben looks after pancakes at lunch (where extended family often join them), and the BBQ dinner in the evening. It’s a family tradition, and the whole family looks forward to their time together.

There is one remarkable, powerful thing that the happiest families do well that most other families do not do at all. They establish traditions.

Stay with me. I know that when you hear the word, “tradition”, it can be easy to roll your eyes and think “Oh no, that sounds too hard. It’s too much work.” But it doesn’t have to be.

Family traditions help life make sense to our children. Like routines, they provide predictability and a sense of security and safety. Family traditions help children feel as though they fit in somewhere. And in time, the traditions come to define who each person in the family is, countering alienation and offering steadiness and certainty.

Traditions differ from our routines or habits because we carry out traditions with a specific purpose and degree of intentionality – we are trying to achieve something very specific to:

  1. create bonds
  2. impart values
  3. promote shared experience, and
  4. build memories.

Whereas routines are designed to become automatic and to make life simpler, traditions and rituals are about being mindful of the moment, and are designed to demand attention and imbue life with meaning.

Traditions don’t need to be big things. They can be small and simple. Here are more ideas to get you thinking about starting some traditions in your family.

Daily Traditions

Some traditions become a daily habit – but with meaning. They can include:

Weekly traditions

There are some traditions that we can easily implement each week, like Sundays at Ben and Tracy Groves’ house. You can try:

Other family traditions

Some traditions really do fit a particular season. Or perhaps they might occur on an occasional basis. These could be:

In a 2015 study involving approximately 250 teens (aged 15-20), researchers discovered that the practice of family rituals and traditions had a significant and important protective role in increasing social connectedness for teens, and for reducing their experiences of anxiety. Those who participated in family rituals also experienced less depression. It seems that the sense of family connectedness tradition and ritual provides deep roots in which our children’s self-esteem and wellbeing can develop and grow, and protects them from the stresses that so many teens experience.

Traditions are about recognising the uniqueness of our family identity, and should be fun, simple, and designed to bring us closer to the people we love.

Be mindful of what you do with your family. When you see something enjoyable, find a way to repeat it regularly and make it part of what it means to be in your family. Before you know it, you’ll start reaping the rewards of having created a new tradition.

Watch Dr Justin’s video on ParentTV here and learn how family traditions can help kids make sense of life.