Families -- no matter how supportive and loving -- are generally not bastions of peace and harmony. Between the bickering parents, eye-rolling teens, trouble-seeking tots and meddling in-laws, it seems there's often little mental rest to be found. Add to that the pressures and obligations of modern life and you can find yourself with a very frazzled family. Fortunately, there may be an antidote to the stress -- a collective chill pill for you and your loved ones -- and it's as simple as starting and following through on a tradition.
Family traditions can have a calming effect on parents and children, alike -- and research shows that they produce many other positive benefits, like improving family cohesion, fostering stability and promoting social development in children [source: Rubin].
Starting a new tradition is easy enough to do, but if you're looking for tried-and-true events with proven family benefits, check out the examples we've listed on the following pages.
As family traditions go, this one is multi-purpose. Not only does it foster closeness and create a shared sense of purpose, but it also teaches kids valuable life lessons like sacrifice, responsibility and -- in some cases -- job skills [source: Dowshen]. Volunteering has even been shown to improve psychological health [source: Schwartz, et. al].
So if you're considering creating a helping-oriented tradition, all you need to do is pick an organization or cause that best matches your family's interests and schedule. If you want to make volunteering a weekly activity, consider showing up at your local animal shelter each Saturday morning to walk dogs. Or if your work week doesn't allow for frequent volunteer opportunities, use holidays or summer vacation as a chance to give. Serving food to the homeless on Thanksgiving or visiting nursing homes during the Christmas and Hanukkah season are activities you and your family can look forward to every year.
And don't think volunteering together is out of the question just because your family has small children. Even 2- and 3-year-olds can help pick up litter or cheer up an elderly person. Just make sure at least one adult family member is always supervising the youngsters.
Our next family tradition is all fun and games.
Let's face it: Not all family traditions are created equal. Some events and activities are appreciated by certain family members more than others. For instance, an evening at the opera with your great aunt might be something you look forward to every year, but it's hardly something your children would want to partake in. However, if there's one tradition that everyone, both young and old, can enjoy it's family game night.
Game night is family bonding masked as fun. It's generally devoid of the tension of forced activities, and it allows parents and children to temporarily live in the moment and forget the stresses of the day. Not to mention, play can have a healing, restorative effect on families [source: Reznick].
If you're considering taking up this tradition, feel free to get creative. Just because toy and novelty manufacturers promote family game night in their marketing campaigns doesn't necessarily mean you have to play board games (although that can be a fun alternative). Do something that your family finds enjoyable: video games, shooting hoops, miniature golf, charades, scrabble, horseshoes ... the choices are virtually unlimited. Just don't get stuck in a rut. Anything can become boring if it's done week after week.
Many people believe in the benefits of our next tradition. Will it be right for your family?
If you're a family of faith, you might not realize that you already participate in a number of traditions: prayer before meals, preparing a Seder plate for Passover, fasting for Ramadan or lighting candles for Advent. Religious family traditions can be as structured as attending a house of worship once a week, or as informal as helping your kids count their blessings before bedtime. Not only are such activities important to your personal belief system, they can also be good for your family. Experts suggest religion can offer mental health benefits like hope, optimism, belonging, positive self-esteem and a sense of meaning [source: Routledge].
Of course not everyone is inclined toward religion. If you're not, that doesn't mean you and your family can't partake in certain spiritual practices. Meditation is a great stress reducer and something the whole family can join in. Why not make a habit of Sunday-morning quiet time each week? You can create a challenge to see who can be still and meditative the longest. You might even get your kids to help you create a meditation area in your home -- complete with tranquil elements like rock gardens and ambient music.
The next tradition is important, so try not to skip it.
There are few American traditions more ubiquitous than the family vacation. It's something people look forward to and plan all year. And even though it's a lot of fun, it's also a legitimate tradition -- and a stress-reducing one, at that. A primary goal of family getaways is to create a break from the daily grind. This can be especially beneficial for adults, who tend to get caught up in the strains of their jobs. Studies have shown that when job stress is the problem, vacation can be a solution -- even if it's a temporary one [source: Whitbourne].
The restorative nature of vacations can have a domino effect. When parents have time to relax and unwind, kids can be more at ease, too. Not to mention, an annual trip can create an enduring family bond [source: Whitbourne].
If a vacation isn't in the budget for your family this year, try a staycation. Still take time off of work and regular responsibilities but fill it with fun activities like sleeping in, visiting local museums and parks, and having a nice dinner out. Just be sure to set boundaries so that it feels like a real vacation: no housework, e-mail or lawn mowing. Behave just as you would if you were on a trip out of town.
The final stress-reducing tradition can be done every night.
Family sciences experts say that there are different types of traditions. Some are centered around celebrations (such as holidays and birthdays) or special events created within a family (like vacations or game nights). Others, however, hinge on everyday activities [source: Hill]. Family dinner falls into the latter category.
Dinnertime may not have been considered a special event 50 years ago when it was a common part of a family's daily routine; but these days when even 5-year-olds have busy calendars, the evening meal can be a rare occasion. Yet, this simple event can give the entire household a chance to shake off the stresses of the day and bond. Plus, family dinners are more likely to be nutritious than eat-and-go evenings. This is important for many reasons, but one you might not consider is that the right nutrition can be a component of stress management [source: WebMD].
Just don't let this make you think you have to prepare a large meal every night. Putting such pressure on yourself may lead to abandoning this family tradition. So instead, shake things up. Make hardy, home-cooked meals once or twice a week and enjoy leftovers on other evenings. You can even allow a pizza or take-out night once week -- which on its own can become yet another fun family tradition.
We have lots more information on the next page, so keep reading.
Are you ready for summer with your family? Take this quiz to see how much you know about summertime traditions.
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- Coren, Stanley. "Can My Dog Make Me Healthier?" Psychology Today. (July 5, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201107/can-my-dog-make-me-healthier
- Cort, Sean. "Helpful Advice for Blended Families." Psychology Today. Jan. 6, 2010. (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-perspective/201001/helpful-advice-blended-families
- Dowshen, Steven. "Community Service: A Family's Guide to Getting Involved." KidsHealth. October 2010 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/volunteer.html#
- Hill, Melinda. "Family Traditions." Ohio State University. 2000. (Aug. 6, 2011) http://ohioline.osu.edu/flm00/fs12.html
- Reznick, Charlotte. "The Healing Power of Family Play." Psychology Today. Aug. 19, 2010 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-imagination/201008/the-healing-power-family-play
- Routledge, Clay. "Is Religion Good for Your Health?" Psychology Today. Aug. 31, 2009 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/death-love-sex-magic/200908/is-religion-good-your-health
- Rubin, Gretchen. "Find Ways to Make Holiday Traditions More Fun. (At the Very Least, Have Some Holiday Traditions.)" Psychology Today. July 2, 2010 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-happiness-project/201007/find-ways-make-holiday-traditions-more-fun-the-very-least-have-som
- Rubin, Gretchen. "This Wednesday: Tips for Starting a Family Holiday Tradition." The Happiness Project. Oct. 25, 2006 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2006/10/this_wednesday__2.html
- Schwartz, C; Meisenhelder, JB; Ma, Y; and Reed, G. "Altruistic Social Interest Behaviors Are Associated with Better Mental Health." Psychosomatic Medicine. September - October 2003 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14508020
- Stern, Joanne. "Creating Everyday Rituals That Are Meaningful for Your Family." Psychology Today." Nov. 29, 2010 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/parenting-is-contact-sport/201011/creating-everyday-rituals-are-meanigful-your-family
- WebMD. "Diet for Stress Management Slideshow: Carbs, Nuts and Other Stress-Relief Foods." June 27, 2011 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/diet/slideshow-diet-for-stress-management
- Whitbourne, Susan Krauss. "The Importance of Vacations to our Physical and Mental Health." Psychology Today. June 22, 2010 (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201006/the-importance-vacations-our-physical-and-mental-health