University of Illinois Extension

Reduce Stress with Family Routines and Rituals

Amy Griswold, Family Life Educator

All families experience stress. Some stress comes from everyday situations and normal life changes. Other stress comes from situations like illness or family disruptions. Whatever the cause of stress, research shows that predictable routines and meaningful rituals are related to healthier outcomes.

A ritual is any repeated, shared activity that has meaning for family members. This is different from a routine that may be a repeated activity, but not necessarily with any special meaning. Children benefit from both special family rituals and predictable routines.

Many family rituals center around holidays or special events, but they don't have to be limited to these times. Simple rituals might be reading together before bedtime or attending family activities together. Rituals help family members develop a sense of family pride and provide continuity and closeness. Children in kinship care benefit from rituals for this reason.

Routines of daily living involve doing the things that need to be done in a home. The regularity of routines is related to overall health of young children.

Regularity and continuity reduce stress because they provide predictability of events. Another part of routines is having clear assignment of responsibilities to certain tasks or roles. Research shows that when families assign roles in their everyday activities, children do better academically and socially during times of transition.

Your grandchildren may have experienced little routine in their lives. But, young children benefit from having a consistent schedule that provides them with a sense of regularity and security. Set a clear, daily routine. Children need consistency, especially if they have had a lot of uncertainty in their lives. Try to make your daily life as predictable as possible. Warn your grandchildren about expected interruptions to the routine. Sometimes change can trigger unwanted behavior in a child who needs a sense of security.

Children who are anxious and insecure may fear any changes in routine. They may ask lots of "what if" questions and have fears that you will leave. Reassure your grandchildren with regular meals, regular hours, a stable routine, and lots of hugs.