The Importance of Rituals and How They Impact Wellbeing

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The veil and head piece that my sisters, my Mum, me and my daughter wore.


Next weekend my son is making his First Communion.  The preparation for these religious rituals is always a time of reflection for me. It brings back memories of my own Communion Day, and of my daughter’s, at the same time two years ago. My Communion Day seemed like a party that lasted all day.

I wore a white lace dress, that had been worn by my four older sisters, and a long lace veil, which was made from my mother’s wedding dress. There were cousins, aunties and uncles at our house all day and there was a feast that seemed to never end. My daughter wore the same dress as me, all her cousins have worn it before her, with the veil that was made from their Grandmother’s wedding dress.

While our son wont wear the dress, there will still be celebrations. A family get-together with cakes and celebration food. We’ll make a big fuss of him and hopefully he’ll feel important. These kinds of rituals punctuate my memories of growing up. They shaped my childhood and inform the choices that I make for my son.

While it won’t be the party that lasts all day,  I can already see that he is benefiting from this process – he feels valued by what we have planned. I’m not sure he’s totally across the spiritual part of it, but for me, it’s not that important – that will come with time.

Rituals are traditionally attached to religious rites of passage – Baptism, First Communion, Bah Mitzvah, Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, Marriage and finally a Funeral – to name a few. However,  our society is becoming increasingly secular with the 2011 Census statistics showing a sharp increase in people who reported no religion, up five per cent from 2006.

This appears to be a global shift, with New Zealand also reporting an increase of five per cent of ‘no religion’, Canada and the UK reported a rise of 10 per cent, and America reported a rise of six per cent. So where does that leave our children and their rituals? What will punctuate and shape their childhood, the same way ours were?

Professor Graeme Davison, a Melbourne University historian recently wrote in the Age Newspaper:

“only as I grew older and my parents passed on did I begin to recognise how much of my life had been shaped by family tradition and expectation.”

Perhaps we don’t see it as significant now, our lives are already so busy; but Davison captures how important these rituals are. Not just for our children now, but for when they become adults.

How will our children navigate the introspection that inevitably comes with the loss of a parent that Davison speaks of, if they are not given the rituals that can be so shaping in a child’s world? Although such significant numbers of the population are moving away from religion, this does not mean that traditions and rituals must also be forsaken.

Research has shown that family rituals can provide a sense of security for a child; constancy and comfort. Research published in Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training shows how knowledge of family history influences psychological well-being. The research found that hearing the stories of family traditions and indeed enacting those traditions forms what MP Duke, one of the authors of the study, calls the ‘intergenerational self’.

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A Summer family ritual – picking zucchini flowers for these gorgeous snacks

It was found that ‘this intergenerational self and the personal strength and moral guidance that seem to derive from it… are associated with increased resilience, better adjustment, and improved chances of good clinical and educational outcomes.’

Taking part in family rituals will increase your child’s sense of family, provide a source for identity, and give them insight in to their cultural history. For example, in our house, on Christmas Eve, my husband makes mince pies with our children. This tradition binds his history with their future, and possibly the futures of their children. Our children now embrace this Christmas tradition and recognise their own English heritage through its practice.


Mince pies in the making – Christmas Eve 2015

Rituals can also be used as a parenting tool. Creating a ritual around difficult behaviour can often turn it into positive behaviour. For example, if getting your defiant toddler to go to bed is posing a challenge, introducing a ritual that everyone looks forward to can turn this stressful situation into something everyone enjoys. Even now, my nine year old and seven year old still snuggle on the couch waiting for their Dad to read the bed-time story.

When considering creating your own rituals, be purposeful and ensure there is meaning behind what you choose to do. You can create daily rituals, weekly rituals or rituals that tap in to the seasons or religious events that you no longer follow.

Every family, what ever your story, or circumstance, can create your own rituals unique to your own family. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, look to your own family history for something that resonated with you as a child, and still resonates an adult.

What made you happy as a child is great place to start, as it is likely to have the same effect on your own children. 

What are some of your favourite family rituals?