Family Traditions and Children

By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

Family traditions enhance children’s emotional well-being by helping to create feelings of security, continuity and identity. Families with established traditions and those who actively form new actions or events as traditions are more likely to create strong bonds among members. Family configurations vary considerably, but those who live together can create and celebrate traditions that reflect their caring for each other.  

Thanksgiving is an example of one tradition that many people celebrate. It is a time for extended families to:

  • Enjoy a meal together.
  • Share pleasant memories.
  • Reflect on the positive aspects of their family.
  • Remember those who are less fortunate.
  • Some ways to cultivate gratitude in children are:
    • At mealtime or bedtime, hold hands and name something or someone each is grateful to have in his/her life.  Do this daily, weekly and/or at holiday gatherings.
    • Keep a family “Appreciation Journal” to be read on Thanksgiving Day.  Place it in a central location so that everyone can make entries throughout the year. 
    • Encourage children to donate their used clothing, toys or part of their earned money or allowance to a charity.

Other family traditions that increase a child’s sense of security and emotional well-being:

  1. Read stories or books aloud together.
  2. Film family celebrations or take pictures that help children recall pleasant memories.
  3. Place photos in frames or in albums to view together.
  4. Tell family stories.
  5. Watch movies or television shows together that are educational or that reinforce your values.
  6. Set aside an evening once a week when you eat pizza or popcorn and watch a movie or play a game together.
  7. Participate in bedtime rituals such as telling or reading a story, singing a song, and/or saying a prayer.
  8. Share interests such as gardening, woodworking, singing, baking, hiking, playing an instrument, being active in a sport, etc.
  9. Do activities together like taking walks, having picnics, visiting museums, attending sports events, volunteering, or participating in school functions.
  10. Prepare traditional foods made for certain occasions (see “Is Family Mealtime Important?”).
  11. Work together making meals, setting the table, cleaning up, etc.
  12. Use a special dinner plate for a family member who has a reason to celebrate:  for example, for a child who won a blue ribbon, sang a solo, or for a parent who received a promotion.
  13. Make a sign to welcome a family member home after a trip.
  14. Commemorate birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries and holidays together in your own distinctive way.
  15. Use balloons, crepe paper or other traditional decorations for special occasions.
  16. For a birthday celebration, take a photo of the child with his/her  birthday cake.  Through the years display the pictures together to record the child’s growth. 
  17. Encourage kindness.  When your child does a good deed, acknowledge it in some way.
  18. Bake items or make handmade cards to express caring for others.
  19. Ask your children to suggest new family traditions.
  20. Have family meetings to discuss concerns, happenings and to set goals.

If children participate in developing and celebrating meaningful family traditions throughout their lives, they will be more likely to feel confident and optimistic about their futures (see "The 8 “L’s” of Parenting" and "Is Family Meatime Important?").

Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website []. 8/06

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