Holiday traditions keep kids connected

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2001

The holiday season is here.

As we sit around with friends, our extended family in Alaska, eating too much turkey on Thanksgiving Day, the importance of "ritual" becomes even clearer. Some years it seems like more hassle than it is worth: planning the day, preparing the meal, setting the table and cleaning up the mess. But you know what? We would miss it if we didn't do it.

Granted, some of our personal traditions have been modified over the years, and I'd venture to say our holidays are simpler than in the past. Yet, we still have a holiday meal, and we still have other customs that have stood the test of time.

When people share a common experience, they tend to have a better connection with others around them. Think about sitting on a jury for several weeks -- the experience might be good or bad, but you feel connected with those who sat through the experience.

The same is true for students. Often they feel connected through co-curricular or class activities. The time to worry is when students are not connected to something at school, to their family or to anything in the community.

Schools have traditions, too. At this time of year, schools tend to have programs featuring choirs singing and bands playing. Many elementary children make presents for their families and do arts and crafts related to the holidays. Students and teachers look forward to these opportunities to enjoy the season. Academics remain the focus of the school day, but there is almost a special spirit throughout the schools.

When we think of home, we usually recall the place we were between the ages of 8 and 12. That recollection often relies on rituals we remember from that time and place in our lives. Children that age are considered to be of the "age of reason," where their input into what's important should be sought and considered.

For example, when I taught fourth grade, I had no idea, until I asked, that the tree unit (studying trees around the world, branching into a study of how Christmas trees were decorated) was one that older siblings had told younger siblings about. Students looked forward to the unit and, though it was "old" for me, they liked it and wanted to share with their brothers and sisters that they, too, had done the tree unit in Mrs. Peterson's class (and had learned more).

Think back to your home, wherever that might be, and think about what was important to you at that time in your life. If you are fortunate enough to have children ages 8 to 12, ask them what they would like to do the same or different from past holidays: It will be a great discussion starter.

Children need to feel connected to their families. Rituals (a ceremony or repeated series of events) and traditions (a handing down of beliefs or customs) are an important part of developing relationships. Children enjoy knowing what to expect and appreciate routines. They also look forward to this time of year being "different" and enjoy opportunities considered special moments.

The key for us as busy, involved parents is to find the right balance between creating and maintaining special traditions for our children and not doing so much that we don't enjoy the holidays ourselves. What do kids say? It isn't how much money is spent or how elaborate the event, it is that the children felt a part of the family and its love.

When one stops to think about the advantages of rituals and traditions for a family, besides being connected, some things to consider are: building a strong relationship base that can handle adversity when necessary; opportunities for parents to pass on stories that build the culture of a family; and a chance to practice manners and etiquette in a "safe" setting.

Hopefully, those will be compelling enough reasons to step back and think about your schedule, your activities and your plans for the next month or so. Whether you're going ice skating, sledding, skiing or just enjoying a cup of hot chocolate in the long winter months -- remember the memories you're building within your family. These are the "good days."

Happy holidays to you and yours.

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