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Comforting Rituals and Family Traditions Help Families Cope in Uncertain Times

(New York, NY) – In times of uncertainty brought on by international events and a flagging economy, families can strengthen their emotional defenses and relieve tension by creating special rituals and family times, according to Lynn Fredericks, mother, author and educator.

“Food lends itself to feeling close, to sharing conversation and feelings,” she explains. “The dinner table takes on an incredible degree of importance when we want to pull together as a family, connect emotionally and communicate togetherness in times of uncertainty.”

Fredericks, a single mother of two boys, found herself alone when the kids were very young. In need of “gluing things back together” for the family, she turned the kitchen into a magnet that kept her kids close over the years. “We found that we had something to share and something to talk about as we peeled carrots, chopped up a salad or made a special dessert,” she says.

“Somewhere, amid our busy schedules filled with work, school and other activities, we lost this very important family ritual – eating together,” she notes. “Now is a great time to bring it back.”

Even eating together once or twice a week is a good start, Fredericks believes. “What relieves stress and tension? Sharing our thoughts, fears and feelings. Laughing together and pitching in and sharing the work. You get all of these things when you prepare a meal together and sit down to enjoy it as a family.”

Here are some fun ways to get kids of all ages involved at mealtime:

  • The youngest kids can pull the leaves off fresh herbs and tear up salad greens. They also can hone their counting skills as you set out the plates, cups and silverware.
  • Older kids can plan and prepare the meal once a month (or once a week if you can manage it) while Mom and Dad serve as kitchen helpers. Wear aprons, fashion paper chef’s hats, develop a seasonal menu - all spark creativity, provide special family time and ultimately make warm memories.
  • Plan a special international meal together, such as a Luau. It’s an opportunity to try new foods and discuss other cultures. Add appropriate music and it becomes a mini-vacation.
  • Make Friday night ICSN - “ice cream sundae night.” Everyone gets a scoop of ice cream to decorate with candies, candy sprinkles, nuts and sauce. Kids also love acronyms – it makes things more fun.

Simple Rituals & Traditions

Everyday rituals also help kids feel secure, advises Fredericks. It can be something as simple as filling a jar with candy when Mom or Dad must travel. Each day the parent is gone, the child takes a piece of candy. The same ritual helps children anticipate a special day. Counting down to summer break, one’s birthday or a holiday is easy for kids to visualize as the candy in the jar disappears.

A special handshake when little ones must separate from Dad or Mom can mean “everything is going to be okay,” says Fredericks. A one- or two-line note in a family member’s lunch box or pocket can be reassuring that they are in our thoughts throughout the day.

Holiday celebrations are perfect times to explain the importance of traditions to children. Talk about your family’s special holiday activity that has been handed down from previous generations. It may be a special cookie or candy you make, or an Easter egg hunt that you remember from childhood and now carry on with your family – share your memories of why the activity is important.

“Creating new traditions provides a foundation for personalizing holiday celebrations with nuances that are meaningful to your family because you created them,” Fredericks explains. “Each year or season as they are re-enacted, the warm memories return. These special moments become something family members look forward to.”

You needn’t wait for a special occasion to create traditions, she notes, and they don’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming to do. Here are some suggestions:

  • When making gingerbread cookies, make a gingerbread family that represents your family members. Decorate the cookies with favorite candies and family members’ names. Eat them together on Christmas Eve or the first night of Hanukah.
  • Create a holiday stocking, Easter basket or “goodie box” for an elderly neighbor or friend who could use a little cheering. The kids can illustrate a card to go inside.
  • Mark the end of the year with a “family memory box.” Decorate the box with tissue paper, bits of ribbon or yarn, buttons and other items. Place inside favorite family photos from the past year, along with a special note from each family member describing what he or she would like to learn or do better in the year ahead. Open the box a year from the date it is sealed and review what’s inside.

“A feeling of closeness and security doesn’t just happen in a family,” says Fredericks. “Like anything else worth having, you have to work at it. When you think of ways you can help your family get a little closer, it’s not by telling someone to do something, it’s by taking the time to share experiences – even small ones.”