When we think about habits, we generally think of the bad ones, the ones we need to break. But forming healthy habits at a young age is even more important so that they can fill the space where “bad” habits might form. We teamed up with our staff pediatrician, Dr. Stephen Cowan, and an Optimism Expert and Holistic Psychologist, Dr. Deepika Chopra, to understand why creating positive rituals at a young age is so important.
“We need rituals because they help guide us, keep us feeling grounded and balanced, and give our lives a rhythm we can dance to,” Dr. Chopra reveals. “We count on them as reminders of what we value and what’s important to us. Our children develop a sense of identity and belonging by creating and practicing meaningful rituals and the act of partaking in a ritual together really helps foster a strong bond!”
Here are 3 rituals & why your kids need them.
SUGGESTED RITUAL: Bedtime Routine
WHY: “Traditions are how we humans get through transitions. Birthdays, marriage, coming of age, death, all have their sacred rituals,” notes Dr. Cowan. “There is no greater transition for a child than going to sleep. Sleep is after all the death of the day. Bedtime routines create a sense of safety through the power of sacred ritual. Even young babies do better with routine in regulating sleep-wake cycles that are fundamental to growth. As children get a little older, separations anxiety is a natural part of the developmental emergence of self-consciousness. Around 4 years old this can intensify as fears of robbers, death, ghosts invade the imagination of children when there are no distractions. Creating your own sacred traditions around sleep is a way to give your child a sense of deeper continuity in the midst of change.”
IN PRACTICE: Dr. Chopra performs this bedtime routine with her 21-month old son daily: “Our night starts with a bath, a massage, story book time, a brief goodnight to all the things in his room and all the people he loves and a well wish for everyone around us. Then, we sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ together. After I leave, he talks or sings himself to sleep. This ritual has evolved as he has grown, we now have a long story time in our bedroom before he goes into his room with his dad, they sing songs and strum the guitar together. It’s so cute!”
You can also introduce herbs, like our Call it a Night to help set the stage for the body to relax and go to sleep.
SUGGESTED RITUAL: Outdoor Activity
WHY: There is a great deal of research emerging that demonstrates how important time in nature is for maintaining our neuro-gastro-immune balance. Recent research has shown that just being exposed to ‘green’ schoolyards promote academic achievement through hands-on, experiential learning and by enhancing the cognitive and emotional processes important for learning. Time in nature improves attention in school, provides healthier ways to release stress, and improves immune resilience.
IN PRACTICE: Dr. Chopra explains her outdoor routine: “Somewhat early on, my son expressed a lot of interest in the moon, ‘Moon’ was his second word. On one of our evening walks, he just looked up at the sky and started saying MOOOOOON. Since then, one of our rituals is to go on an evening walk to ‘find the moon.’”
SUGGESTED RITUAL: Meals
WHY: Dr. Cowan explains, “There’s more to eating than just getting energy. The dinner table is the first classroom. This is where we meet to exchange ideas, tell stories, feel connected and learn about ourselves. Through the sensory awareness of color, taste, texture, and smell that help us become connoisseurs of our body.”
IN PRACTICE: We introduced solids (or more like mush) to Jag at around 6 months and talked him through what he was eating in a mindful way: what it looked like, tasted like, felt like, the texture. We have found ways to continue that at every meal so that Jag can develop this mindful way of eating. It’s evolved now, he uses his new words to describe his meals which is amazing! But, he is a new toddler and the attention he has to focus on a lengthy mindful eating practice is short so we have blended in this ritual of choice: Jag chooses where he wants to sit such as on his high chair, outside, or on the dining table chairs, which bib he wants to wear if at all, the spoon, fork, bowl, cup he wants to use and what he wants to eat before we give him a meal! I have to keep it real, some days the meals are the hardest, but the ritual of mindful eating and choice always remains!
Try out one, or all three, of these routines consistently, everyday. Consistency is security for your children. In the wise words of Aristotle: “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”