By Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD

If change is the only constant at your house, you may long for the comfort and connectedness that family traditions instill. Even if you don’t have the secret recipe for Grandma’s snicker doodles, you’ve got what it takes to make meaningful memories for your kids this season.

“In these fast-paced times, many of us hunger for simple, meaningful traditions we can pass on to our children,” says Nava Atlas, author of Everyday Traditions: Simple Family Rituals for Connection and Comfort (2005). And family rituals need not be elaborate, Atlas contends. Simpler may be better.
Making fond memories requires nothing more than embellishing daily routines in ways that reflect our values and passions, explains Atlas. You can pass on your appreciation for nature, passion for fitness, or love of philanthropy by incorporating them into family events. Meals, baths, story time, and bedtime are all great opportunities to build meaningful rituals into daily life whereas holidays and changing seasons may inspire annual traditions.

Go from ordinary mom (or dad!) to memory-maker extraordinaire when you combine these not-so-secret ingredients to create your own family traditions.

Anticipation »Let kids count down with big, bold Xs on the calendar or by making a paper chain and removing one link each day. Didn’t plan that far ahead? Count down the hours to tonight’s “picnic dinner under the stars” by singing “Twinkle, Twinkle” every hour on the hour and announcing “six hours to go” and so on. Your enthusiasm will get kids excited about what’s to come. Bonus: They’ll remember the fun they had every time they hear “Twinkle, Twinkle.”

Consistency »You know kids love repetition because they’ve asked you to read the same bedtime story every night for three weeks. And new isn’t necessarily better when it comes to making memories. “The repetitive, cyclical, and predictable nature of rituals is what makes them comforting and reassuring,” Atlas says. Why not hang some old decorations, even if they aren’t looking so elegant anymore? Your kids will fight over those tacky baubles when they have families of their own some day.

Specialness »Even everyday activities are memory makers when you add a twist. Light candles on the dinner table or don glow-stick necklaces to light up the longest night of the year. Add vanilla extract and colored sugar sprinkles to kids’ milk and call it “holiday cheer.” Serve throughout the holiday season or whenever kids’ spirits could use a boost.

Vividness »Smells, sounds, and images can bring back feelings with amazing force. Repeat “I Think I Can, I Think I Can” as you all chug up the hill carrying sleds or riding bikes. Wear red foam noses while you watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer together. Sensory elements heighten our experiences and help create a slowed-down, in-the-moment feeling, says Atlas.

Participation »Get everyone involved in a way that uses his or her skills and talents. Little kids might stir cookie dough or decorate paper gift bags for their cousins’ gifts. Bigger kids might act out a favorite song or story or make homemade cards. You’ll certainly want to capture events on camera, but don’t get lost behind the lens.

Being »Make holiday happenings special by being there completely – in mind, body and spirit. Notice how your kids light up (or groan, “Oh, mom…”) when you cheer them on a little too loudly. Let dishes pile up in the sink while you the kids trounce you in an after-dinner Wii bowling tournament. Your undivided attention is the most powerful memory-maker of all.

Reflection »Savor holiday traditions by thinking about what they mean to you and sharing your thoughts with those you love. Intentional reflection helps us to learn from and remember our experiences.

Meaningful family traditions build a sense of shared identity and security that comforts kids and grown-ups alike when the busyness and stress of modern life are overwhelming, Atlas explains. Best of all, the fond memories you make will never be lost, wear out, or go out of style. You can’t say that about most other gifts you’ll give this season, can you?
Heidi Smith Luedtke is a psychologist and mom who enjoys crashing toy cars, making pumpkin cake balls, and decorating holiday cookies. Find her online at heidiluedtke.com.

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