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Everyday rituals provide children with sense of connection

The summer wind-down has begun, and back-to-school season is shifting into high gear.

Whether the end of summer inspires dread (hectic mornings and homework struggles) or glee (more free time while the kids are in school) – or both – the start of a new school year is a good time for parents to pause and think for a moment about family culture and how to give children a sense of being supported and connected.

One of the best ways to provide this sense of security is to build little rituals into everyday family life – something that provides a momentary oasis of calm and predictability before (and after) your child goes out into the world.

Just about every family has holiday traditions and rituals for special occasions, whether it’s “we always go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving” to the ceremonial carving of the Easter ham.

But what can we do to make the mundane and everyday special?

Mornings
In some homes, the morning ritual begins with the wake-up. I have heard of families that play the same personalized music mix every morning, or even sing their own family version of Reveille with silly lyrics incorporating the kids’ names. (The music mix can also act as a motivational aid, letting the children know – without parental nagging – that by the time a certain selection plays, they need to be dressed or at the breakfast table.)

At breakfast, rituals can include the usual items such as a prayer or blessing; a piece of cinnamon toast bearing a happy face; or a greeting using the child’s pet name (I used “Lee-Lee” and “Laniebug” for my daughters Leah and Lanie) or silliest nickname (“Hotdog” for Jackie, my daredevil child).

Even a silly morning joke (“Will you be having giraffes or elephants sprinkled on your cereal today?”) can become a cherished ritual, as well as a source of creative, get-the-juices flowing conversation as kids seek to come up with ever-more-absurd comebacks. (“No, I’m more in the mood for aardvarks today.”)

Another great way to make children feel a sense of security and belonging is to reminisce about their babyhoods – a subtle reminder of their rootedness in the family and the way they have been loved and cherished since birth.

One of my favorite stories about daughter Jackie recalls her habit as a one-year-old of waking up in the pre-dawn hours and letting me know loudly that she was ready to start her day. On one such bleary-eyed morning, I pointed to her bedroom window in desperation and told her that once the sun was up, she could wake me.

The next morning, I could hear Jackie stirring before dawn and knew she was standing in her crib, searching for that first sliver of sun edging over horizon. Sure enough, I soon heard her crow proudly, “Sun’s up, Mommy! Come get me!”

Oh, how I loved to remind Jackie of this in her middle school days, when she would have preferred to sleep in. And even on her grouchier mornings, greeting her with a “Sun’s up, Jackie!” almost always drew a sheepish smile.

Send-off rituals
As for goodbye rituals, I know parents of younger children who give them special wallets with family pictures inside to start the school year, and send them off every morning with the reminder that “I’m in your pocket” and that the wallet can be patted whenever the child feels the need.

Other parents may choose to send their children off with a one-sentence Prayer of Protection, while still others might like to count a few kisses into their child’s palm and add the words, “Now close up your hand, and keep those kisses close all day!”

In my own family, we had a “squeeze you to pieces” ritual that sprang out of a random affectionate moment when I told my toddler daughter, “Oh, I could just squeeze you to pieces!” After a few such hugs, the literal meaning of the statement suddenly dawned on her one day, and she looked alarmed. “Mommy, put me back together!” she demanded.

After that, the squeezing ritual always ended with exaggerated slapping and patting moments as I picked up the “pieces” and put her back together – and even now, the phrase can still elicit a laugh with my grown-up girls.

Homecoming
At the end of a long day, the best homecoming rituals are calming ones, of course. As a tea lover, I can’t think of a better calming ritual than tea time.

When my daughters were in preschool and elementary school – before the after-school sports began – we did tea almost daily. At that age, a simple box of sugar cubes and a pair of silver tongs (only seen at tea time) was a much-anticipated treat, as was the ceremony of steeping and stirring and plunking in the cubes – and talking about our days.

But don’t think for a moment that tea time only works with girls. I had friends who raised two sons with a daily tea time ritual that took place when Dad (an Anglophile) arrived home at 4:30.

From the time they could toddle to the table, the boys were expected to sit in for at least a few moments of the ceremonial pouring and sipping, and to join in the adult conversation. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that both of these boys grew up to be not only the most polite and gentlemanly young men that you could ever hope to meet, but also articulate, accomplished students.

Some parents save the most precious after-school treats for rainy days, and keep special books and games in reserve, only to be used when weather is dreary and children are feeling confined. Or they bring out the special snacks and activities for rainy days, like popping popcorn (the old-fashioned way).

Random moments
Among the best everyday rituals, in my opinion, are those that are unscheduled and take place at random moments throughout the day. One of the coolest random rituals I’ve heard of is the family dance break. In this musical family’s home, whenever a good dancing song comes on, any family member can call out “dance break!” – requiring everyone to drop what they’re doing and meet in the den for some spontaneous dancing and laughing.

In my own family, we had a random ritual known as the hug alarm. Anyone who had a sudden need for a hug could simply start making a noise like a fire engine siren or other alarm, and everyone was supposed to drop what they were doing and come running to supply a hug.

As for bedtime and dinnertime, we will have to save those those rife-with-rituals times of day for separate columns to allow enough space for the topic. As always, I hope readers will write and share some of their family rituals, and perhaps help other families who are searching for inspiration to develop their own.

And as you develop these rituals, keep in mind that some will grow out of spontaneous moments (like squeezing to pieces) and some might be developed by your children themselves.

One of my favorite ritual stories is about the harried single mom who came home from work one day to find that her preteen sons had, on a whim, set up a “happy hour” of lemonade, cheese and crackers.

Now, at the end of a bad day, she will call and ask her boys, “Could we have a happy hour today?”


Community

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden raises admission $1

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s admission has increased by $1 across all categories. Admission is now $12 for adults; $11 for seniors ages 55 and older; and $8 for children ages 3–12. Admission remains free for children ages 3 and younger and for members.

The last price increase was in 2011, before the Garden consistently hosted Butterflies LIVE! (which is included with admission). > Read more.

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Is there an Echo in here?

‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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