The se­cret to strong fam­i­lies

Psy­chol­o­gist ex­plains im­por­tance of fam­ily rit­u­als to child’s de­vel­op­ment

Daily Mercury - - PEOPLE | BABIES -

WHAT are your three favourite child­hood mem­o­ries from early fam­ily life? For some, sift­ing through child­hood mem­o­ries in search of good times may kick­start a de­fault lens that scans for the dis­ap­point­ments that fam­ily life de­liv­ered.

For oth­ers, the trip down mem­ory lane will quickly un­cover spe­cial times on hol­i­days or mem­o­rable mile­stones.

But I’m guess­ing for many read­ers, pos­i­tive mem­o­ries will be found in the sim­ple, seem­ingly un­re­mark­able, fam­ily rit­u­als that were cher­ished.

Shared meals, reg­u­lar movie nights, books read, out­ings, games, TV shows, songs or ac­tiv­i­ties that were prac­tised re­peat­edly.

It’s no won­der these fond rit­u­al­is­tic mem­o­ries find their way to the sur­face for many of us.

Fam­ily rou­tines and rit­u­als are an im­por­tant fac­tor in healthy fam­ily life. They help chil­dren and par­ents to feel good, and they cre­ate a sense of be­long­ing and iden­tity, by let­ting ev­ery­one know what’s im­por­tant to the fam­ily unit.

Rit­u­als also of­fer sta­bil­ity dur­ing times of stress and tran­si­tion and are as­so­ci­ated with higher lev­els of mar­i­tal sat­is­fac­tion, ado­les­cents’ sense of per­sonal iden­tity, chil­dren’s health, aca­demic achieve­ment and stronger fam­ily re­la­tion­ships.

Psy­chol­o­gist Bar­bara H. Fiese, Ph.D., and her col­leagues at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­sity dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ence be­tween a fam­ily rou­tine and a fam­ily rit­ual.

"Rou­tines in­volve in­stru­men­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­vey­ing in­for­ma­tion that ‘this is what needs to be done’ and in­volve a mo­men­tary time com­mit­ment so that once the act is com­pleted, there is lit­tle, if any, af­ter­thought," says Dr Fiese.

"Rit­u­als, on the other hand, in­volve sym­bolic com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­vey ‘this is who we are’ as a group and pro­vide con­ti­nu­ity in mean­ing across gen­er­a­tions. Also, there is often an emo­tional im­print where once the act is com­pleted, the in­di­vid­ual may re­play it in mem­ory to re­cap­ture some of the pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence."

Any rou­tine has the po­ten­tial to be­come a rit­ual once it moves from an in­stru­men­tal to a sym­bolic act.

The good news for busy par­ents is that cul­ti­vat­ing rit­u­als is sim­ple.

There is no per­fect rit­ual recipe. Pow­er­ful and mean­ing­ful rit­u­als need only be en­joy­able, ac­ces­si­ble and able to be prac­tised reg­u­larly for them to be­come a sus­tain­able thread in the fab­ric of a healthy fam­ily house­hold.

In fact, many fam­i­lies will al­ready be in­volved in sim­ple rit­u­als such as meal shar­ing or weekly movie nights. Re­cent stud­ies link reg­u­lar fam­ily din­ners with pos­i­tive out­comes in­clud­ing lower rates of sub­stance abuse, teen preg­nancy, eat­ing dis­or­ders and de­pres­sion, as well as higher grades and self-es­teem.

While watch­ing a movie to­gether can pro­vide a fun and bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that also pro­vides a cat­a­lyst for con­ver­sa­tion in the hours, days and weeks that fol­low.

While the pit­falls of ex­ces­sive screen time have been ad­dressed ad nau­seam, it’s less well recog­nised that ac­tively shar­ing a movie ex­pe­ri­ence with our kids can en­hance and ex­pose chil­dren to new con­tent, lan­guage, and even re­la­tion­ship dy­nam­ics.

Watch­ing a much-loved clas­sic can draw out our own mem­o­ries of the film, lead­ing to in­ter­gen­er­a­tional sto­ry­telling, or even the teach­ing of favourite song lyrics (my teen girls know ev­ery line and song from Grease!).

Ex­plor­ing age ap­pro­pri­ate film con­tent to­gether can prompt con­ver­sa­tions which help fa­cil­i­tate a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the way our chil­dren are cur­rently think­ing and feel­ing.

As is the case with many fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties, the most po­tent in­gre­di­ent is ac­tive parental en­gage­ment with chil­dren while en­joy­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether.

Strong con­nec­tions are built on the small, lov­ing things we do and say reg­u­larly, not the one- off bells and whis­tles out­ings that end up on Face­book.

In ad­di­tion to fa­cil­i­tat­ing a sense of se­cu­rity and pre­dictabil­ity, a child­hood his­tory steeped in fam­ily rit­u­als also pro­vides a ro­bust tem­plate of be­long­ing and mean­ing to take into our adult years. Who doesn’t want that for the next gen­er­a­tion?

Sabina Read is a psy­chol­o­gist, coach and speaker who works with in­di­vid­u­als, cou­ples, fam­i­lies and or­gan­i­sa­tions. She is the Res­i­dent Psy­chol­o­gist on Af­ter­noons on Ra­dio 3AW and The Morn­ing Show, and an Am­bas­sador for The Fam­ily Peace Foun­da­tion.

❝po­tent

The most in­gre­di­ent is ac­tive parental en­gage­ment.

PHOTO: STOCK

Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 14, 2017 dai­ly­mer­cury.com.au GET TO­GETHER: Fam­ily movie nights and rit­u­als are im­por­tant for chil­dren and the whole fam­ily unit, says psy­chol­o­gist Sabina Read (IN­SET).

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