Family Routines Help Children with Social and Emotional Health
A recent study suggests that the more family routines and rituals you do, the better your child will fair with their social and emotional health.
When we had our first daughter, creating family routines was very important for us. Not only did it help our daughter learn cues for things like bed time with reading books before tucking her in, but it also helped us begin to create long lasting memories I know she’ll hold close to her heart. And as we have baby sister in the mix now too, we look forward to sharing with her our family traditions and routines as well. It turns out, though, that there is more to this than creating lasting family memories as a recent study suggests that children who grow up with family routines end up being more socially and emotionally advanced.
Researchers followed 8,500 children born in 2001 and the routines they practiced as preschoolers such as family dinners, reading books together, singing songs, and playing. It was found that over time, children who performed habits on a regular basis—family dinners five times a week, reading, storytelling, or singing at least three times a week, and playing as a family a few times a week—had a greater chance of having a higher social and emotional well-being. And for each additional routine performed each week, children had a 1.47 greater chance of having higher social and emotional health. In addition to this data collected, the children’s moms filled out a survey rating their child’s social and emotional well-being to help aid in the understanding of how family routines impact children before they reach school.
Social and emotional health is all about children being able to express their own emotions as well as understand the emotions of others. And having a higher social and emotional health has been linked to children being more successful in school, with the exception of reading.
For me, I look at this study through two lenses. One is that of being a mother, and the other is that of being a teacher.
For my girls, family routines are all about having them feel secure and comfortable. We want them to feel the warmth of family time and have it be their happy place when the big bad world can seem so overwhelming to them.
Family dinner each night is something we all look forward to. Even when my oldest is giving us a hard time about eating her dinner, the conversations and silliness that ensue makes up for it all. There’s nothing like a 4-year-old knock, knock joke to ease the tension of getting her to eat her broccoli. And sometimes she gets upset with us for our insistence on getting her to eat and we talk about it. She tells us she’s mad or sad and we tell her it’s OK to feel that way, but sometimes she has to do things in the world she doesn’t always want to. And having this time as a family around the dinner table to discuss her feelings gives her the comfort to know that it’s OK to express herself.
In addition, reading books, making up stories, and singing happens daily for us. And really, our oldest is the lead on that as of late. We’ve instilled in her the joy of these rituals and she clings to them when she’s feeling down. Singing is a big one lately. I swear sometimes my daily life is a musical as Abby sings her way through the day, making up songs as she goes. And sometimes to break the stress of the day, I will sing back to her what I’d like for her to do, making up silly rhymes, and ultimately getting her to turn around a crummy mood. We start giggling, talk about what’s making her upset, and then we are on our way to whatever it was I was trying to get her to do.
Overall, it’s almost as if family routines have been the crux to hold my little girl together. It provides us a fun space to goof around and a safe place to deal with whatever might be troubling her. And it’s just the thing we need to reel us all back in as a family. Mom and dad could use this social and emotional growth as well!
This all translates into my daughter’s ability to read others and understand what they may be going through, and create a way for her to also feel secure in speaking up. As a teacher, this is so very valuable in education. So much so that in my teacher education classes, a whole semester class was spent on the importance of cultivating and understanding the social and emotional health of our students. Building community, creating a fun and safe environment, and establishing routines and rules within the classroom helps students to achieve and if students come from a background where these mechanisms have been established, it’s easier for children to buy in to what we are trying to do. And for those students who struggle, we fight harder for them to feel this security in the classroom. Without it, it’s a struggle to get them to achieve.
Ultimately, reading about this study was a great gut check for me. I’m not perfect and some days are tough. Stopping what I’m doing to read a book to my daughter or cue up “Let It Go,” for a family sing-a-long, sometimes seems like a chore for me when life gets busy. However, I now know how very valuable it is to stop the busy and make time for it. It benefits my children not only in the now, but also in the future, and honestly, dancing around my living room with Abby as we make up hand gestures as we over-exaggerate the lyrics to Frozen, is good for my soul. It’s good for my emotional stability. There’s always time for a dance party or telling stories, especially as it strengthens my girls’ abilities to feel comfort and confidence as they go about their days in the years to come.
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