My kids treasure our family traditions. If I suggest in jest that we deviate from a family tradition, they will protest.
“Dad, that’s not the way we do it,” they say.
Meg Cox, author of “The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day,” defines a tradition as “practically any activity you purposely repeat together as a family that includes a heightened attentiveness, and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.”
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Holidays and family traditions go hand in hand. One Christmas I suggested we get an artificial tree rather than a real Christmas tree. My kids and wife both objected.
As long as we’ve had kids, my wife and I have lived no more than 20 minutes away from the multitudes Christmas tree farms east of Portland, Oregon. Our family tradition has been to dress in our rubber boots, raincoats, and gloves, and drive from one tree farm to another, hunting for a perfect Christmas tree.
We also have traditions for Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Independence Day, and traditions not connected to holidays. Our kids have usually embraced each tradition with enthusiasm. My wife and I are grateful for that, because we know other families whose children haven’t connected to family traditions.
Some kids miss out on these and other traditions because their family doesn’t have any, and others skip out for various reasons. But when kids grow up without family traditions, they lose out on the essential benefits that these things provide.
The stress of the change was especially noticeable in my 11-year-old son, who found it difficult to get to sleep in his new bedroom.
1.) A Sense of Belonging
Children have an innate need to belong. Kids who don’t feel like they belong at home will look for somewhere else to belong. Kids who find safe places to belong can thrive — but many children find their sense of belonging in dangerous groups, such as gangs.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow is known for his hierarchy of needs theory. He identified the need to belong as the third of five core human drives, coming after fulfillment of physiological and safety needs. Belonging is essential to a child’s sense of happiness and well-being.
By giving family members a shared history and fostering commitment to the family unit, family traditions foster a sense of belonging for children.
2.) A Sense of Identity
A few years ago, I had Muslim neighbors who had immigrated from Pakistan. As my family got to know them, we learned about their traditions and they, ours. While it surprised our family that, like us, they brought home a Christmas tree in December, in the fall they observed Ramadan and fasted from sunrise to sunset. Each evening they broke their fast with tasty Pakistani cuisine, some of which they shared with us.
While there are sometimes similarities, every family’s traditions are unique. The uniqueness of a family’s traditions helps develop a child’s sense of identity and of belonging.
3.) A Sense of Security
When we moved into our current home, the change was stressful for all of us. We loved our new home, but the change meant different routines, new neighbors, unfamiliar sounds in the night. The stress of the change was especially noticeable in my 11-year-old son, who found it difficult to get to sleep in his new bedroom.
Family traditions provide kids with a sense of security by providing an anchor during times of change. As we resumed usual rituals, created new ones, and celebrated birthdays and holidays together in the months ahead, our new home gradually felt familiar to my son — and a place where he now feels safe.
4.) A Positive Outlook
A study by England’s University of Southampton concluded that when adults engage in nostalgic recall of memories, such as those from childhood, it raises their self-worth and optimism. Consider this and the other benefits of family traditions as you invest time and effort to plan and carry out special family activities that make memories for your kids. Family traditions create lasting memories for children that can help them thrive as adults.
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Jon Beaty, a life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”