Both children and adults benefit hugely from having certain daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal rhythms and rituals in their life.
Traditionally, summer is all about not having any set rhythm or schedule.
Funny, though, that at the end of the summer we often look forward to having a schedule again. For many families that means, that the kids are going back to school.
So why are rhythms and rituals a good idea?
Nature has many rhythms. Day and night, for example. Lunar cycles. Seasonal rhythms. Those changes occur on a regular, predictable basis. Animals and plants follow those rhythms in their own ways. Many flowers close up at night.
Also, think about plants throughout the seasons: the buds in spring, flowers in the early summer, fruits in the late summer and early fall, and leaves falling and plants “dying” in the winter.
Animals, too, follow those rhythms. Think of hibernating animals that eat a lot before winter, and then fall into a state of sleep through winter. Animals “know” it’s time to mate in the spring and so on.
Humans and natural rhythms
Up until fairly recently, humans were closely following those natural rhythms, too. People used to rise with the sun and go to sleep with the sun. Lighting was either not available or very expensive.
With all farming, people also followed along seasonal rhythms. Planting in the spring, tending throughout the summer, harvesting in the fall, and maintenance (or living off the stored foods) during the winter.
These days, we can set our own rhythms: we can stay up all night if we want to. We can eat strawberries in winter. If we crank up the A/C, we can freeze in the summer. Likewise, we can pretend it’s summer by turning up the heat in the winter.
I personally think that humans thrive on being more in tune with the natural rhythms. Both adults and children. Science backs this up.
Why is it beneficial to follow natural rhythms?
We always had a few rhythms and rituals when my kids were growing up. It was almost like a scaffold that gave them security. They would just follow along with those rhythms since they had “embodied” them. And more importantly, they always knew what was coming next.
I, too, find that when I establish certain rhythms, I don’t have to think about doing something. It’s like my body does it on its own. I find that hugely helpful with all sorts of chores or activities I want to do on a regular consistent basis. Most people sleep better when they’re on a regular schedule.
What are some rhythms for children?
Depending on the age of the children, we always had activities and routines that occurred at the same time.
The bedtime routine evolved over the years to this: we would eat dinner more or less around 5:30pm. Then we would draw the bath. The kids always loved this and the warm water relaxed them and calmed them down. After that it was putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, and then to bed. I would light a candle, turn the lights to low, and do story time (mostly reading books).
By the time the story was over, the kids were tired and ready for sleep. There was never any arguing over when to go to bed or that they wanted to stay up longer. It was simply the same routine. They had embodied it so much, that they would just naturally fall asleep when we turned off the light. I think it was signaling that everything was safe and secure to the nervous system so it could let go.
Similarly, we had certain breakfasts. As like most Germans, we would have a hearty homemade bread in the morning. However, on Fridays, we would have cereal. That was “cereal day”. Saturday was “pancake day or waffle day“. Sundays were called “egg and bacon day” since we would have a more elaborate German-style breakfast with boiled eggs, breakfast rolls, and bacon.
My children still remember this to this day. And there was never any arguing over “I don’t like this” or “I’d rather have that”. They even have their own elaborate Sunday breakfasts now!
Rhythms for adults
It’s no secret any more that we as a nation are stressed out. Expert therefore recommend having a bedtime routine for adults. If I go to sleep at pretty much the same time every night, I usually sleep much better. My system is just used to it. Therefore, I turn off all screens at least 30 mins before I head to bed. Most nights, I enjoy reading in bed for a bit.
I also find that my digestive system likes regular mealtimes. It just knows when to expect food and when to fire up the digestive process.
Certain chores, I like to do on a regular basis. While I often do a little spot-cleaning here and there, I keep Fridays for my deeper cleaning. I chose Fridays, so that the house is clean for when we often have friends over on the weekends.
Sundays are my bread-baking days.
Changing bed sheets every two weeks is easy to remember. I might have other regularly occurring activities on a monthly basis. Every 3 months, we all change our tooth brushes (Jan. 1, April 1., July 1., and Oct. 1).
As an annual activity, many of us engage in some sort of spring cleaning.
I often think about what our grandparents and great grandparents would have done. In Germany, everyone had fish on Fridays (don’t ask me why). They would have a day of the week that was for washing clothes. Maybe they had a baking day.
Again, I find doing chores and activities become almost second nature if they occur on a regular and predictable basis.
What about rituals?
I think rituals tie the family together. Every family might have very different rituals. I knew of a family that had a regular Friday evening movie night with their children.
On Christmas eve, we used to take the children for a walk, then come home, open presents (Germans celebrate Christmas eve rather than Christmas morning), and then have our traditional Christmas dinner. That dinner was always the same and we only ate if for Christmas. The kids used to hate the walk but have fond memories of it now that they are adolescents. I have a feeling they might be doing the same with their children … as my parents had done with my brothers and me.
You see, rituals can span generations. I think that makes them extra special!
For Thanksgiving, I would have the kids help me polish the heirloom silver. Our Easter egg hunt followed certain “schedule”.
In later years, we spent a week camping with some other families at always the same campground.
And then there was our “flying ritual”. We would often fly to Germany to see the grandparents and family. The kids had little backpacks that I would pack the night before. I packed a combination of some of their favorite toy cars, some crayons, maybe a new, small notebook, some little snacks, and drink pouches. The rule was they could only open their backpacks once we were on the plane. When we had our seats on the plane, they were allowed to open their backpacks. This kept them busy for a long flight. Our children never cried on the long 11-hour-flight. To this day, they enjoy flying and have very fond memories of those backpacks.
What about your rhythms and rituals?
I hope that you could see that there are so many ways in which a family can implement rhythms and rituals. You might already have some and just make them a bit more conscious and regular.
Maybe you sit down with your spouse and think of new ones. Sometimes a family can decide together on certain rituals.
Whatever you do, I hope you have fun with them. They will surely make your family bond deeper.