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Traditions are important. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t survive from generation to generation.
A family’s traditions help children develop a deeper understanding of who they are and what is important to their family. Traditions make connections and create a sense of security in their repetition.
When you think of family traditions, typically people focus on holiday activities and celebrations.
While these are important and create many magical memories for children, they are not the only traditions a family should have. Often, it is the small, daily activities that reinforce a family’s values and identity.
Want some ideas on how to create family traditions in your day to day life? Look no further. We have compiled an extensive list of ideas for you to try.
You can’t get much more classic than breaking bread together, but there are lots of ways to start traditions that don’t involve a Thanksgiving feast.
1. Family Meals
Shared mealtimes provide opportunities to talk about your day and listen to one another. It’s also a great time to model basic etiquette for kids. If schedules don’t allow you to pick one meal each day that you will share, set aside a specific meal at least once a week.
Set expectations that there are no cell phones or televisions on, but instead, listen to one another. Share news of your day, both positives and negatives, and talk through problems that are brought up.
2. “Special” Day Treats
Not just for birthdays and holidays, you can make Tuesdays memorable because it’s taco night, or always celebrate National Donut Day. Some family make chocolate cookies on the first of every month or try a new dessert each Friday night.
Get creative with your treats, and you can develop some of the atmosphere of a family meal when you all go out for ice cream to celebrate an achievement or have a popsicle on a hot day.
3. Just Add Sprinkles
If your kids are anything like mine, they love to add sprinkles to things. When they were little, we used to add granola to their yogurt, and they still call them oatmeal sprinkles. Consider making mundane food special with the addition of some colorful sweets.
Things like cereal, pancakes, oatmeal, and sometimes even mashed potatoes get a little more fun with just a few sprinkles! It’s simple and takes almost no effort, but for some reason, it brings a lot of smiles. And don’t worry, you can find organic or dye-free options if that’s what’s holding you back!)
4. Share the Love
Giving food to others promotes a generous and grateful heart in kids. Show your appreciation for teachers or bring a little cheer to neighbors by baking something as a family and then delivering the treats to others.
If whipping things up in the kitchen isn’t your thing, consider sharing food by purchasing items to donate to a food bank, working together in a local soup kitchen, or delivering meals to seniors in your area. These things require less domestic skills but pack the same punch when it comes to regularly doing something for others together as a family.
5. Family Recipes
Special foods and recipes from your family give children a sense of belonging, as well as making them aware of where they come from and what makes them who they are.
Maybe you make your grandmother’s hot German potato salad recipe that she learned from her mother when she was young, or bake a delicious chocolate banana cake that no one else has ever heard of.
Interesting and unique family foods can be experienced more than just at holiday meals, particularly if you teach your child how to make them, and tell them the story of how it came to be.
Traditions that Get You Moving
It’s not always about the food. Sometimes getting up and moving makes the best memories.
5. Family Walks
The family that walks together talks together. Research shows that people open up when they are moving. Even teens who often communicate through eye-rolls and shoulder shrugs might be motivated to share something while you’re walking side by side.
In addition to promoting physical health and providing opportunities to talk, family walks are a great way to explore your neighborhood and can be as long or as short as you need them to be.
You don’t have to walk every day; you can also make it a full moon occasion, or a Sunday evening routine.
The best part of this tradition is that it will change and grow with your family. You may start out walking while pushing a stroller, and slowly move on to chasing your kids down the sidewalk. Family members of all ages can participate, and everyone gets something out of it.
6. Dance Parties
Easier with the addition of music streaming and Alexa, dance parties are a silly way to get your family up and moving, and jam to some classic tunes. You can introduce kids to your favorite songs and learn about new ones when they start to make requests.
Don’t stop this tradition when your kids get older, even when they’re embarrassed and reluctant. Get them to show you the latest TikTok moves or share some of your classic moves. Show how to let loose by example, laugh, and enjoy yourself.
Sometimes it’s the small, magical, three-minute dance parties that our kids will look back on and remember when they’re older.
7. Outdoor Sports
Even for the less than athletic ones among us, knowing the rules and rudimentary skills for sports is a basic life skill, not to mention it’s a fun way to pass the time.
You can play touch football on Thanksgiving (or every Sunday at my house) or have a continuous kickball game in the backyard, always picking up where you last left off. We like to play pool volleyball on the 4th of July and go fishing in the summer.
There are tons of sports options that you can play outside as a family, no matter the ages and skill levels involved.
While all rituals carry a message of what is important to your family, some traditions are more overt representations of your priorities.
8. The Happiness Jar
A Happiness Jar sits on a counter, windowsill, or mantle throughout the whole year. As exciting and joyful things happen, family members record the moment on a small card and place it in the happiness jar. Younger kids can draw out representations, or dictate to older family members what they want to remember.
Designate a date to go through and open the cards in the jar. Reliving these happy moments helps kids remember good things that happen to them and reinforces positive memories.
If someone is feeling particularly low, you can always pick a few cards to read through, even if it’s not on your designated date, to cheer you up.
9. Family Mantras
Does your family have sayings that you use all the time? My mom used to tell us “Good night, sweet dreams, God bless you, I love you,” every night. She also implored us to “Remember who you are,” every time we went anywhere without her.
These sayings are comforting and familiar. As grown-ups, my siblings and I sometimes say them in jest to one another, but we also all use similar concepts with our own kids. We know that these sayings left a mark on us.
You might already be doing this without thinking about it, but if not, consider using repetition to underline essential values and ideas that you want your child to remember. Whether it be nighttime blessings, morning greetings, or good-luck wishes, kids and adults alike find security in small things they can count on.
10. Family Volunteering
While we gave some examples and options of this in our food-based section, there are so many ways to get involved with volunteering in your community, even if you have young kids.
You can build houses with Habitat for Humanity, or write letters to seniors in nursing homes. Consider raking leaves in the fall for someone who can’t do it alone, make donations (both new and used) of clothing and toys, and buy gifts for others who don’t have as much on holidays.
No matter your circumstance, there is always a way to give to someone else, and kids will learn that being a part of your family means taking care of others too.
Find ways to have fun together, doing things everyone will enjoy.
11. Family Books
Sharing a book as a family is a great way to spend time together that doesn’t require anyone talking about their day. When kids are very young, short books work well, but as they grow a bit older (think preschool aged) you can begin sharing chapter books with your kids together as a family, reading a little bit every night.
If you need ideas, there are many lists out there to consult for family read alouds. You also don’t have to make this a nightly, year-round thing. Maybe no one plays sports in February, and you read a book that month every year, or share a story during the summer when everyone stays up a bit later. Pick a way that works for your family!
12. Movie Night
Similar to the idea of a family book, a movie is a way to bond without any pressure to share. Common experiences deepen connections among family members, even something as simple as watching the same movie together.
If you’re not up for a whole movie due to time constraints or varied bedtimes, consider watching a show or series together regularly. We set aside Sunday evenings for family movie night, and sometimes we watch the latest episode of Kids Baking Championship or the football game instead of a film.
13. Game Night
Family game night might feel like something straight out of Full House, but I have to tell you that’s a fantastic tradition to add to your repertoire.
Kids learn so much through games. They learn how to follow the rules and be a good sport. They practice math concepts and language skills. But mostly, they’re just fun!
Board games are enjoying a comeback right now so in addition to some oldies, like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, consider adding Headbandz and CodeNames to your list.
Extra Silly Traditions
There’s something about being utterly ridiculous that strengthens bonds and encourages kids to laugh.
14. Silly Shakes and Sayings
Around my house, we cheer cranky little boys up by asking them if they need to change their pants. This started when I asked one of my kids if they put on their “cranky pants” today. Usually, just the question helps kids smile a little bit and lightens the mood.
You can also do funny things to make your house smile, like encourage kids to literally “shake it off’ when they fall by shaking their hands, legs, etc. The goofier, the better, and if it’s unexpected, that’s the best.
15. Yes Days
Yes Days have become super popular recently, and I can see why. Each kid (or family member!) gets to pick a day where the answer is “Yes!” to all of their requests, no matter how silly that might be.
Families typically put some rules around this for spending and safety purposes. Still, for the most part, this is a fun way to break up a regular day with silly adventures that would typically never happen and let your kid be in the driver’s seat.
What Will Your Family Do?
Whether your family already has everyday traditions in place that you want to add to, or you’re starting from scratch, hopefully, a few of the items on our list sound like good ideas to you.
Whatever you choose, remember that with each tradition, you are building your kids’ identities, along with memories that will last a lifetime.