As a trained mental health counsellor, I have provided services to a great many children, teens and parents. Two common themes frequently stick out: kids and teens that have mental health struggles often don’t have much “consistency” or “routine” to depend on at home, and parents are usually too hard on themselves and think they are not doing enough for their kids.
Implementing routines and starting traditions are two of the easiest and most effective ways to keep everyone happy at home, parents and kids alike. Routines (and even rules), help kids feel safe. I distinctly remember many years ago, when I first became an educator, I worked a PA day camp alone with 15 kids. I had been an educator for less than a year, and was not able to command the same control and enforce the same routines as someone with more experience would have. Gym time descended into chaos, but to my surprise, the kids’ happy energy soon turned into panic. I will never forget finding one boy crying on the floor, rocking himself back and forth, and mumbling “no one is listening, no one is listening…”
One might assume that a no-control environment is every kid’s dream, but it isn’t. Kids may think they want to rule the roost, but they also think they should wear shorts in a snowstorm, and have ice cream for breakfast. Why was the boy crying in the gym that day? He felt unsafe. The one adult who he would need to depend on if there was an emergency was having trouble establishing control and setting the usual routines. From that day forward, I knew for certain that the happiest kids are never the ones that are allowed to wreak havoc with no limits.
So what are some good routines for at home? Keep it simple! One suggestion is to eat dinner together at the table. This is a healthy habit because it is the time when everyone, kids and parents included, are most likely to talk about anything that is bothering them, or what is most important or interesting to them right now. It can be hard for families with busy schedules and hardworking parents to commit to eating at the table every night, and it’s perfectly fine to start by designating only certain nights as table nights – but make it a routine and stick with it.
Speaking of meals, a good tradition can be to designate certain days of the week for family favourites. For example, “Pizza Monday” or “Spaghetti Friday”. A tradition in our house is “no cook Saturday”. Other traditions can include things like movie nights or board game nights, a simple walk around town a few evenings per week, visiting relatives on a specific couple of days per month, or a weekly outing for ice cream. The possibilities are endless and depend entirely on what your family is interested in.
In terms of routines, these can cover things such as teeth brushing, homework, bath nights, and the timing of chores and meals. Consistency does wonders for kids, but it can also help parents keep their heads on straight. Life is easier when everyone knows what to expect, leading to less anxiety and depression, and overall happier families.
Many of us remember certain “small things” from our childhoods that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside when they flash in our minds – this is the very definition of nostalgia. Parents often worry that they are failing. I myself often fear that I am not giving my kids enough of their own happy moments that will turn into nostalgia later in life. This worry – much like most parents’ worries – is folly. Kids don’t need parental perfection, they just need parental presence. We may never know in the moment which routines and traditions will turn into the happiest memories for our kids when they grow up, but it is nearly certain that if we try our best, they will one day discover the magic of nostalgia.