Routines That Last
Preschoolers crave repetition, so give yours thoughtful traditions to love again and again.
From the beginning of time, people have participated in ceremonies that have been at the heart of religious, cultural, ethnic, and family groups. The more familiar and meaningful these rituals and traditions, the happier and more connected to the group people feel. Children are especially affected by these repetitive activities, which reinforce their feeling of fitting into a group.
For our children, connections to their adoptive family and culture can be reinforced by traditions and rituals. In the same way, activities that honor birth culture can create a stronger and more positive identity.
Preschoolers love routine and repetition. As they navigate an unpredictable, adult-run world, repetition reassures and grounds them, helping them learn about their environment and themselves. The child who can watch the same video over and over, and who insists upon the same bedtime story night after night, will delight in a ritual that has predictable, consistent components. The more the activity highlights what is special about the family, the more joy it will bring.
Building Child-Friendly Rituals
When designing family traditions, include activities that reflect easily recognizable family or group traits. Be sure there are doings that all members, even the very young, can participate in. The things about your family that bring poignant images to mind and the events that give way to heartwarming memories are the moments that bear ritualizing.
When thinking about creating rituals that will be meaningful to your child, ask yourself:
• Where were you when you learned about the impending adoption of your child? Whom were you with? What season was it? What day of the week was it?
• How did you and your child meet? What were you wearing? Doing? Thinking? Saying?
• What was the first holiday you celebrated as a family?
• Where was the first place you went as a family? Whom did you see? What did you do?
• Can these events be recreated/reenacted?
• What did your child love most when she was younger?
• Is there some trinket or memento that could symbolize the formation of your family?
• How do people in your child's birth culture celebrate events? What foods do they eat? What do they wear?
Let your preschooler help with holiday decorations, shopping, singing songs, preparing supplies for candle lighting or cooking, and more. There's only one hard and fast rule about the rituals you create: It is the repetition of an activity and its differentiation from everyday life that defines it as such. Beyond that, anything that makes your family feel connected and helps family members mark their special role within the group applies.
Fran Eisenman is a New England–based social worker and family counselor.
Photo: Siblings Nalia (2, U.S.), left, and Isabela (5), top right, celebrating with the family.
Now and Always
Start a memento box. Collect tokens, pictures, and other items that represent your child's adoption and/or birth culture. Put in your child's art, a recording, and so on.
Celebrate family. Set a night once a month to recognize the importance of family. Activities could include a special dinner, games, birth-culture activities, and looking at photos.
Remember waiting kids. Light a candle to remember and hope for children who are waiting to be adopted.
Hand down a tradition. Promote your child's sense of belonging by sharing a tradition from your family: "I baked these holiday cookies with my mom. Now we get to do it together."
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