Ritual with Young Children
Thoughts & Reflections
We find comfort in ritual. It’s part of the human experience, and it crosses culture, time, age. We have evidence of rituals in ancient Egypt, and surely the mystery of Stonehenge hid ritual long forgotten. We celebrate the sacred and the mundane. It’s the shared religious experience, it’s chants and camaraderie at sports games, it’s a feeling of togetherness and glee around holidays, it’s universal and personal.
Ritual can have a religious connotation, and certainly for many, participating in a religious community brings fulfillment. Services, actions, words that have been shared around the world, with family and friends, with generations before holds importance, as much as the faith experience so many hold dear.
Ritual can also be simple, private, secular. Pour-over coffee to start the day, a bath and music to close it. A walk to the corner cafe, the same meal every weekend, pizza and movie night. Any of the many activities we engage in without much thought, without question of “if,” that we go through without overt thought, that we limp along when we don’t have them, all these are rituals.
Sometimes we know our rituals, they’re overt, and grand, and we look forward to them. Big holidays that require preparation of mind and space. Things that take effort. A special annual meal that gathers family big and small, whether in thought or in shared space, this is ritual. We’d feel a bit “off” if it weren’t celebrated “right,” and it can take a few years to settle into a new routine when “the right way” cannot be due to change — change in location, in family, in circumstance.
“Children like predictability, certainty, feeling part of the group.”
As someone who lives far away from the place they grew up, and far away from the growing-up family, holidays are this for me. It’s taken several years to adjust, and even then, the mashed potatoes never taste right, and can it really be Christmas Eve without tamales and chili? And yet, though the circumstances changed, there is still ritual. It’s part of the human experience, and we don’t do well with merely setting aside ritual. We create new ones. Maybe Christmas involves going to the movies. Maybe Saturday morning is for mowing the lawn and waffles. Maybe a nightly cup of tea is no longer a question, but a necessity.
Children like predictability, certainty, feeling part of the group. They love participating in ritual for the same reasons. In the classroom, we do things the same way each day. Setting up lunch is a small ritual, and the children settle right into their roles of setting up lunch, sharing something they’re thankful for, helping one another to open containers and then to tidy the shared space. Birthday celebrations are a big ritual, and the air is electric with anticipation of a guest coming, maybe we’ll see photos, and how many times is Jesse going to walk around the sun?! I know the steps, I take comfort in the order, I am a full member of this community because I can participate fully in this shared experience.
Special or everyday, what rituals exist in your family? Perhaps you’re part of a larger community with special rituals, such as an expat community celebrating holidays from home even in diaspora, a religious organization with celebrations throughout the year, or an adoptive families network that celebrates the day our family was complete. Perhaps you already participate in rituals but you’re not aware of them, such as nightly bubble baths, setting the table and lighting candles even for just mac and cheese, an evening walk around the block to chat about the day and spot fireflies.
These are all rituals, big and small, and they’re all important. How do we bring children into this community by involving them in ritual? How do we make ritual around our children? It’s so much bigger than “just” pizza night on Fridays, or fasting and feasting for 30 days. It is belonging.
Written by:Charlotte Wood