Creating Family Traditions

An article about the importance of developing special family traditions.

All children like routines. They’re comforting. They ease transitions and prepare kids for what comes next. For autistic children, routines are especially important. Knowing what to expect helps create a sense of safety and calm. Traditions and rituals are an important part of routine. They can also make new situations–the start of school, a vacation, and so on–feel familiar and less frightening. And when kids feel secure, they may be more likely to try something new. So routines may actually make it easier to introduce small changes!

  • Follow your child’s lead. Involve them as much as possible in the creation of the ritual. Do they like to sing? A bath song may erase the jitters caused by a shampoo. Give them a choice between two favorite songs–hearing (and joining in!) a beloved nightly lullaby may make bedtime smoother.
  • Create traditions that celebrate your family. Make up a family cheer, or a special family handshake or hug. These kinds of things reinforce the idea that you form a family unit together, that you’re all there for each other no matter what.
  • Use the routine as a way to stretch your child’s world. For example, take a favorite song, and make up new words together to suit the situation. “The Wheels on the Bus” can be “The Kids in Your Class,” incorporating the people they’re meeting in their new school, and all activities they’re being introduced to.
  • Holiday traditions build up anticipation and create memories. Think up fun new traditions that will have meaning for your family. Invite your child to choose a favorite food to help you cook and then include every year at the holiday table. Or let your child design a set of special Valentine’s Day place mats. Take photos so you can remember and talk about these traditions during the coming year. Make sure any traditions you create are things you can live with for a long time. If you don’t want to make ten different kinds of holiday cookies every December, don’t start that tradition. Once made, rituals may be hard to let go of!
  • Birthdays are a super time for annual traditions and games. Have some props, such as a birthday cape or crown, or a “gem”-bedazzled juice cup that you use only on that day. Think up a special way to begin and end birthday festivities. Keep a birthday album, filled with photographs of these birthday traditions playing out year after year.
  • When appropriate, share routines with teachers and caretakers, so that everyone is on the
    same page.

Having predictable rituals is great. Just remember to keep them manageable.