Rituals that include elements like togetherness, positive emotions, laughter or resilience provide opportunities to build well-being for both parents and children.
When Australian Kath Ballard thinks about family rituals, bike riding immediately comes to mind. When her first child was 12 months old, Kath and her family transported bikes and camping gear to the Netherlands and spent three weeks exploring the Dutch coastline. When a second child came along, the family cycled down from Germany, through Slovakia and into Hungary.
Years later, with a growing family of three children, the plans and equipment became even more intricate. The eldest, at 5 years old, cycled on her own, the 4-year-old pedaled on a tag-along bike, and the littlest rode in a child trailer. Together they cycled through Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
“Part of how we define ourselves as a family and a big part of the memories we have as a family are created on these trips,” Kath says. “We talk about the memories for a long time after. Some of my happiest family memories are from these trips.” Kath says that bike trips have provided a resilience mindset for her family.
“Most days are just a journey of joy, cycling from one playground to the next, and then on to ice cream rewards at the end of each day,” she says. “Some days were harder when the path was uphill or the distance between stops was longer. This is when working together as a family pulled us through, overcoming challenges and rewarding persistence. The satisfaction when we met these harder goals was always great.”
Singing Brings Joy in Singapore
Simple family rituals can foster well-being, especially when done regularly. Sha-En Yeo, a mom of two happy-go-lucky girls in Singapore, seizes opportunities for family connection whenever she finds them.
Recently Sha-En’s oldest daughter, Sherrie, shared a song she had learned called “I Love the Mountains.” The song is fun and interactive with a place for singers to insert names of things they love in the chorus. “It’s such a catchy song,” says Sha-En. “We have taken to singing this song as a way to bring positivity into the home and to remember what we love.” Sha-En says in doing so, her family gets to know and appreciate what’s important to one another.
Little Zoey, the youngest daughter, might sing about loving her pillow or her doggy, while older sister Sherrie sings of more sophisticated things, like loving her iPad or her best friend. Even Sha-En and her husband sing along, adding their own loves to the mix.
Sha-En reports that it is not diffcult to sing along, which they do until they are all out of loves. “Generally, we are in a much better mood after singing,” she says.
Tiffany Davis-Baer is a busy mom with three active boys and a daughter on the way. But that didn’t keep her from creating a ritual for teaching her sons about sacrifice and living a life of service. When Tiffany and her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Rick Baer, were stationed overseas, they noticed that great care was taken in the upkeep of cemeteries that honor the ultimate sacrifice of service members in the World Wars, including those from the United States. This level of care left such an impression on them that they vowed to teach their children the beauty of a life of service.
Tiffany created a powerful family ritual of visiting her father’s grave at a national cemetery each holiday to honor the sacrifices he made. “We want our children to understand the significance of sacrifice and of service, as well,” Tiffany says.
Not only are Tiffany and Rick teaching service, but they are also strengthening the foundation of well-being in their children. Psychologists Marshall Duke, Ph.D., and Robyn Fivush, Ph.D., teamed up on research that demonstrated the positive impact that knowledge of family history has on the self-esteem and well-being of children. Their “Do You Know…?” scale to assess a child’s knowledge of family narrative turns out to be an excellent predictor of children’s emotional health and well-being.
Through the vehicle of family ritual, Tiffany and Rick have discovered a beautiful way to connect themselves and their children to something larger than themselves, one key element of well-being.
“My oldest sings ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ beautifully and my middle recites the Pledge of Allegiance each time we pass a flag,” Tiffany says. “I believe they get it!They understand the sacrifice our ancestors made.”
Beyond that, Tiffany also sees the values that her father instilled in her through the actions of her sons. “Each day I see my dad in them, the confidence, the strength to push themselves and each other. The ability to see the good in people,” she says. “I know my dad’s with us…he smiles at me through my sons.”
Jan Stanley has worked with Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. Army and Harvard Business School to develop leaders. She is a writer, coach and speaker who helps others find meaning and joy in work and in life.