BY KELLY HOLMES, AUTHOR AND CERTIFIED PARENT EDUCATOR. HappyYouHappyFamily.com
To investigate the importance of family traditions, researchers at Syracuse University completed a review of 50 years of research on family traditions. They discovered that when a family incorporates rituals and traditions into daily family life, they experience these benefits:
Family relationships are stronger and more resilient, which includes staying connected even in the face of conflict, solving problems together, and maintaining a positive outlook
Children feel worthy of love and feel accepted as a person
Children learn that they can count on others
Children gain a stronger sense of personal identity – such as what makes them unique and the kind of person they want to be
Family members feel less stressed by daily family life
Physical and mental health outcomes for children improve
Children perform better academically
Married parents report greater marital satisfaction
In other words, if you want to build a home your child will want to come back to even when they’re grown, a handful of strong family traditions are a must.
What Is a Family Tradition, Exactly?
When I first learned about all those research-backed benefits of family traditions, I had one reaction: Sign. Me. Up.
But then I wondered: What are family traditions? Because if I wanted to get all those benefits, I needed to understand exactly what makes something a family tradition versus a regular everyday routine. As it turns out, the definition of “family tradition” is tricky because family routines and traditions are similar. They both happen on a regular basis.
Here’s the big difference: Family routines are basic activities that need to get done to keep your family functioning well. For example, if you brush all your kids’ teeth right before bed every night, that’s a routine or habit. It’s important that it happens, but the experience of doing it is bland and probably not something you find yourself looking forward to.
On the other hand, family traditions are activities you engage in regularly that:
Evoke positive emotion and
Foster a sense of connection and togetherness.
Sticking with our tooth brushing example, suppose every night before brushing your kids’ teeth, you announce, “RAWR! The Dino Dentist is ready to see you now!” Some nights, you make your arms short like a T-Rex and pretend to struggle while you brush their teeth. Other nights, you stomp around like a Stegosaurus or screech like a Pterodactyl. In other words, you’ve elevated an ordinary routine into a fun family tradition that will get everyone giggling and your kids will look forward to every night.
Side note: You might hear some experts refer to “family traditions” as “family rituals” or use the words interchangeably.
“Family ritual is practically any activity you purposely repeat together as a family that includes a heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts… I wouldn’t call it a ritual if you sometimes sit on the front steps of your house, blowing bubbles with your kids. But if you do it every Friday while consuming cookies and lemonade and call it your ‘Welcome to the Weekend Party,’ then it’s definitely a family ritual.” Megan Cox, The Book of New Family Traditions
The Best 35 Family Tradition Examples
If you want to start a new family tradition to nurture a strong family bond, this list is for you. Below, you’ll find examples of family traditions that will bring your family closer now and into the future.
To put together this resource for families, I read every list of family tradition examples I could get my hands on in books and online, talked to friends and neighbors to hear about their favorite traditions, and surveyed the more than 100,000 readers in this community – then I compiled all the most-loved ideas into one epic list.
But First, You Should Know This
This list includes a wide variety of family tradition ideas so that different families can find ideas that will work for them. But you don’t need to do everything in this list! That would be impossible, not to mention you’d be so overwhelmed you’d likely end up choosing nothing.
Instead, keep an eye out for one or two examples of family traditions you’d like to try, and make a plan to do them. Add them to your calendar or put a reminder in your phone if you need to. Then if your family enjoys it, you can set up a recurring reminder until it becomes second-nature.
Pro tip: No matter which family tradition you want to try, consider giving your new tradition a fun or playful name. Some linguistic studies suggest that when you label a concept or object, you change how people perceive it, and that framing can influence their preferences and behavior.5
Using a short, pithy name also helps you quickly communicate what the tradition involves and can conjure up memories of previous experiences with it, giving you and your family warm fuzzies and getting everyone excited to do it again. For example, compare “Let’s all sit on the couch together while I read aloud from this chapter book” to “Family Read-Aloud Time.” Because giving your tradition an official name can elevate its value in these ways, below you’ll find some suggestions for naming each tradition. Feel free to use any of those tradition names that speak to you, or brainstorm a new name with your family to make it your own.
Everyday Family Traditions
One of the best ways to stay connected as a family is to transform ho-hum daily routines into heartwarming family rituals and traditions. Most families are busy, so everyday family traditions tend to be simple and quick.
Use the family tradition examples in this section to help you see your daily routines in a new light so that you can elevate one or two of those habits to family tradition status.
1. Hold on for every good morning, good night, and hello or goodbye
In the hustle and bustle of everyday family life, it’s easy to fall into the habit of rushed greetings delivered with quick half-second hugs, if at all. And yet, hugging your child for six seconds or more can lead to life-long positive outcomes for them and reduce the harmful effects of stress. Transform that quick hug habit into a tradition of greeting your child that will lift them up and remind them how much you love them.
Make it official: In some families, they’ll say, “Can I have a Good Morning Hug?” or “Goodbye Hug” or “Hello Hug.” To mix things up and try different kinds of hugs, here’s a list of 20 sweet and silly ways to hug your child, and each hug in that list has its own special name.
How to do it: Every time you greet your child, such as when they wake up in the morning, before they go to bed at night, or when they get home from school, stop what you’re doing and give them a whole-hearted hug for six seconds or more. To help you start your new hugging tradition, you can take the Hugging Challenge explained here and grab a free printable that will keep you on track.
2. Start your mornings with a full tank A family’s morning routine can be hectic as everyone rushes around to get ready for school and/or work. That added stress can make everyone in the family snippy with each other, plus it can get kids started off on the wrong foot for the day with stress hormones pumping through their small bodies and impacting how they act at school. To avoid that, start your mornings with a 10-minute family tradition to protect your family against the stress.
Make it official: In our family, we call this tradition our “Fresh Start,” and we do it before the morning routine starts to get hectic so that we start the day off with our tanks of love full to brimming. One family told me they call this their “Come Together Time,” and they kick it off by playing the Beatles song Come Together. Other options include “Connection Time” or “10-Minute Together Time.”
How to do it: Set aside 10 minutes in your morning routine. If you don’t have 10 minutes, five minutes can work. And if you can’t find five minutes, you can combine this with something else, like while your child eats breakfast. Have your child pick one of our Family Connection Cards, or you can pick one at random, then do what the card says to do. Because the Family Connection Cards are based on the science of what actually works when you need to connect with your child, you’ll both start your day feeling loved and connected, plus you’ll stop the power struggles caused by disconnection.
3. Leave surprise messages
Start a tradition of writing a sweet note for your child every day and leaving it somewhere for them to find. You can tell a joke, write down what you admire about them, or just say “I love you.” When your child finds the note you left just for them, they’ll feel special and loved.
Make it official: Many families call these surprise messages to their child “Love Notes.”
How to do it: Leave a note in your child’s school lunch box or if they buy lunch at school, you can leave it in their pencil box or backpack. Or as an alternative, you can leave a Post-It note on their bathroom mirror every night for them to find it in the morning. For ideas on what to write, check out 75 Positive Words for Kids That Will Make Your Child Feel Absolutely Loved.
4. When you get home, run to the bed
After you factor in time for homework, dinner prep and clean-up, and the kids’ bedtime routine plus everything in between, weekday evenings can feel rushed and chaotic. To strengthen your connection after spending the day apart and keep the evening routine free of disconnection-induced speed bumps, start a tradition of stopping to snuggle and connect.
Make it official: Popular names for this tradition are “Family Cuddle Time” and “Cozy up in Bed Time.”
How to do it: When you get home on weekdays, call out “Family Cuddle Time!” and encourage everyone to run into your bedroom and pile into the bed. Something about the tight quarters of adults and kids all squished into one bed makes everyone giggle. And then as the giggles fade, deep breaths and sighs take their place. The closeness and shared quiet is one of the best reset buttons you could hope for. For the full details on how this tradition works, head over to The After School Routine for Busy Families That Will Make You Smile.
5. Read together
Reading aloud to your child every day is a powerful family tradition because research shows daily read-aloud time grows your child’s brain (literally), increases your child’s capacity for empathy, and even improves their behavior. And no one is ever too old to be read to! You can read aloud to tweens, teens, and even to your spouse or partner.
Make it official: Some families call this tradition “Read-Aloud Time” or “Family Bookish Time.”
How to do it: Pick a time of day when you can read aloud to your child for 10 minutes, like while they eat breakfast, while they’re in the bath, after everyone is in jammies and ready for bed, or when they’re tucked into bed and ready for lights out. For older kids, you can take turns reading aloud from the same book, or you can read a snippet from an interesting magazine or newspaper article. If you need a great book to read aloud, check out The Ultimate List of the Best Picture Books, Endorsed by Kids And Parents and 48 Awesome Chapter Books for Kids Your Child Will Devour.
Variations: If you’re having trouble finding time to read aloud, turn on an audiobook when you’re driving back and forth to school or running errands, then listen together.
6. Stop and eat
If you’re not already sharing one meal a day as a family, this is one of the best family traditions to start. Research shows that children who regularly eat meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, including lower levels of aggression, oppositional behavior, and delinquency.
Make it official: A simple “Family Dinner” or “Family Breakfast” gets the point across!
How to do it: Make a tradition of slowing down and coming together as a family for at least one meal a day, whether that’s a quick breakfast shared while standing at the kitchen counter or a sit-down meal at the dinner table.
Variations: To boost the feelings of love and connection during your shared meals, ask one fun question at every family meal from our special set of Conversation Starters for Kids. The set includes 150 questions, which gives you enough questions for five months of family dinners. When you ask great questions like that, not only will you be teaching your child the art of a good conversation, but you’ll get to peek straight into your child’s heart. What’s important to them, what has them worried, what they’re excited about.
7. Go around the block
In busy family life, it can be difficult to make time for getting enough physical exercise. And yet, exercise is not only good for your child’s physical health, but research suggests that regular exercise will protect your child’s mental health as they get older. Plus, kids who move their bodies every day experience better moods, an increased ability to focus, more confidence, sounder sleep, and better academic outcomes. To increase your child’s physical activity level (and yours!) so that you get all those benefits, start a family tradition of taking a quick walk after dinner.
Make it official: Most families refer to this tradition as simply their “Family Walk” or “After-Dinner Walk.”
How to do it: After dinner, head out for 10 or 15 minutes and walk around your neighborhood. You can talk about your day, make it an informal scavenger hunt and count how many dogs or birds you see, or mix it up by hopping on your bikes for a ride around the block. If it’s already dark out, bring flashlights for an extra dose of fun.
Variations: As an alternative, if you live in an area that isn’t walkable, you can queue up a yoga video and wind down together while you move through a few yoga poses. Our favorite family yoga video is this fun 17-minute practice:
8. Fill a jar
One powerful family tradition that’s popular with many families is a daily gratitude ritual in the form of a gratitude jar. And for good reason: Research shows that when kids regularly practice gratitude, that increases their happiness and life satisfaction. Not only that, a simple gratitude ritual can improve your physical health, develop your compassion, and help you better cope with stress.
Make it official: Refer to your jar as the “Gratitude Jar,” “Happiness Jar,” or “Warm Fuzzies Jar.”
How to do it: Find an empty jar or bowl and make that your family’s new gratitude jar. You can keep it on your kitchen counter or on your dinner table. Then pick a time every day to encourage everyone to reflect on what they’re grateful for, such as at dinnertime. As everyone goes around to share their gratitudes, write each one down on a slip of paper to add to the jar. Over time, the jar will fill up, giving you warm fuzzies just by looking at it. But as an added bonus, if anyone in your family is having a rough day, they can pull out a slip (or five) to reflect back on the good.
Variations: As an alternative, some families encourage everyone to add gratitude slips to the jar throughout the week, then at Sunday night dinner, they empty the jar out and read aloud all the gratitudes from the week. One more variation on this idea is to create a “good things” jar where you ask everyone in your family to jot down good things whenever they happen. Then once a month and again on New Year’s Eve, empty out the jar and read them aloud to reflect back on all those good things.
9. Take turns writing
Get a shared journal for kids and parents and take turns writing back and forth to each other every day. This family tradition works like magic to get your child to open up about what’s going on in their life so you can stay connected no matter what.
Make it official: Depending on who’s sharing the journal, you can call it your “Mommy and Me Journal” or “Daddy and Me Journal.”
How to do it: Pick up a journal designed specifically for kids and parents, or just get a blank journal. On your turn, write something to your child like something funny that happened that day, a memory you have of your child, or something they did that you appreciated. Before bedtime, leave the journal on your child’s pillow, and then it’s their turn to write back and leave it on your pillow the next night. My absolute favorite shared mother-child journal comes in a couple options: mother-daughter and mother-son. For a father-child option, check out this father-daughter or father-son journal. Or for younger kids who aren’t writing yet, you can share a drawing journal like this art journal for moms or for dads.
10. Make bedtime sweet
Bedtime can be stressful for kids for many reasons, from separation anxiety for younger kids to ruminating over worries for older kids. When you slow down for a few minutes and connect through a nightly family tradition, you can help your child destress and calm down so that they have an easier time drifting off to sleep. One of the best ways to do that is by using the power of touch.
Make it official: Several families said they call this “Bedtime Cuddles” or “Bedtime Snuggles.”
How to do it: After your child climbs into bed, ask if you can rub their feet or their back. Physical touch like massage helps reduce stress, which can improve kids’ sleep, mood, and behavior. As an alternative, you can use your finger to write a message on your child’s back like “I love you” and have them guess what you wrote. You’ll connect through physical touch, and they’ll feel proud when they figure out the message.
Weekly Family Traditions
When a family ritual happens just once a week, that gives you a little more breathing room to take your time and make it special. In this section, you’ll find family tradition ideas that work well on a weekly basis for reconnecting as a family. With that said, if a weekly rhythm feels like too much to keep up with, many of these work well as monthly family traditions as well.
1. Crank it up
Kick off the weekend with a family dance party every Friday afternoon. Research shows that listening to music together strengthens your bond and builds positive memories. Plus, studies show that young children especially get a big dose of happy when moving their bodies to a rhythmic beat, and that goes for adults too.
Make it official: If you decide on a standard day for your dance party every week, you can name it with the day, like “Friday Dance Party.” Otherwise, “Family Dance Party” will do the trick!
How to do it: When everyone gets home on Friday, queue up a few of your family’s favorite upbeat songs. If you have a young child, scoop them up and start dancing. For older kids, challenge them to show off their best (or silliest) dance moves. Show your kids the dance moves that were popular when you were a kid, and ask them to teach you the dance moves popular now. (My teenager trying to teach me to floss always results in giggles for the whole family!) If you need some ideas for your family dance party playlist, check out our playlist of the best kids’ dance songs with clean lyrics.
2. Roll the dice Set aside one weekend afternoon or evening (or both!) every week for a family game night. Playing board games and card games is an excellent way to bond as a family. Plus, many family games are educational so your child will be strengthening skills like reading, math, and spatial intelligence without even realizing it because they’re having so much fun.
Make it official: “Game Night” or “Family Game Night” were the most popular names families gave this tradition.
How to do it: Let your child pick out a game they want to play, prepare a special snack like popcorn or one of these family game night snacks, and have fun playing together! If you find yourself cringing at the games in your closet (I’m looking at you, Candyland), I’ve gotcha covered. My family runs a small game shop, and we stock only the best family games loved by kids and parents. Two of our most popular games include Sleeping Queens – a quick and fun card game you can play with a wide range of ages – and My First Carcassonne – a game of strategy that’s fantastic for growing spatial intelligence and also fun for adults.
3. Grab the popcorn
Many families told me their favorite family tradition is family movie night every Friday or Saturday night. As long as you accommodate younger kids when picking which movies to watch together, movies create a fun shared experience for the whole family. As an added bonus, research shows that when you watch something with your child and chat about what you’re watching together – known as “co-viewing” – you increase your child’s literacy skills, boost empathy, and even mitigate the negative effects of certain kinds of screen time like violent scenes in movies and TV.
Make it official: You can’t go wrong with just a simple “Movie Night” or “Family Movie Night”!
How to do it: Take turns every week picking which movie to watch and cozy up on the couch together for a shared experience. To make this tradition extra special, add in a fun treat. You can watch new releases, share your childhood favorites, or rewatch one of your family’s all-time faves – the ones you have memorized. To help your child get the most out of the experience of co-viewing a movie, try pointing out interesting details, commenting on similarities between what you’re watching and something in your child’s own life, and pausing the movie after a complicated or potentially confusing scene to talk about what just happened.
Variations: When the weather warms up, turn your weekly movie night into a backyard movie night. All you need is a projector and a white sheet or a screen to project on, plus blankets to spread in the grass or outdoor chairs. Bonus points if you roast marshmallows over a backyard fire pit. By the way, this is the projector I got for my husband one year for Father’s Day, and we use it every week during the summer for our Backyard Movie Nights!
4. Fill a basket
Sharing a daily meal as a family can be a powerful family tradition, but depending on your work schedule and your child’s extracurricular activities, having a meal together every day may not be feasible. In that situation, you can set aside one day every weekend to pack a picnic to enjoy as a family, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Not only will your whole family get a healthy dose of fresh air, you’ll also foster the long-term physical and mental health benefits for children who regularly eat meals together with their family, including lower levels of aggression, oppositional behavior, and delinquency.
Make it official: The most common name for this tradition is just “Family Picnic,” but I also heard from one family that called this their “Eat Outside Day.”
How to do it: Grab a blanket that can fit everyone – this is my family’s favorite picnic blanket because nothing soaks through, and it’s easy to clean off – and pack a meal to share. For a special treat, pack something fun your child doesn’t usually get, like a piece of candy or a juice box. You can set up your picnic in your backyard or front yard, at a neighborhood park, along the bank of a stream, river, or lake, in a clearing in a nearby wooded area, or even just on your living room floor. A picnic basket is absolutely not necessary, but if you find that your family enjoys this tradition, you can add this lovely picnic basket to your wish list for future birthdays and holidays. We gifted that one to one of my kids, so every time we get geared up for a family picnic, she loves taking charge of getting the basket packed up.
Variations: Bring a frisbee, a soccer ball, or an outdoor game you can play together after you eat. Or for younger kids, bring a kite or a bottle of no-spill bubbles.
5. Share the kitchen
No matter if you’re the chef of the family or if you have a partner who usually does the cooking, pick a night every week when you can make dinner together as a family. When you show commitment to sharing responsibilities as a family – like making a meal to share – research shows that makes your family stronger. Plus, you’ll get help in the kitchen instead of everything resting on your shoulders.
Feel free to let the rest of your family take the lead while you take a step back and serve as more of an advisor and pinch hitter when they need help. Bonus tip: If you have trouble with this in general (I know I do!), try brewing yourself a coffee or tea or pouring another favorite beverage to sip on and keep your hands busy.
Make it official: You might call this tradition your “Teamwork Dinner,” “All Hands on Deck Dinner,” or “Calling All Chefs Night.”
How to do it: Let your child decide what to make for dinner, then involve them in the work of making it. As an added benefit, they’ll be much more likely to eat a dinner they helped make! Keep in mind that especially when you have younger kids, you can expect the process to take a little longer than usual. Mistakes mean they’re learning. If your kid makes a mess, take a deep breath and try saying something like, “That’s okay, we can clean up when we’re done.”
6. Make it a date
Head to your neighborhood coffee shop, then treat yourselves to a fancy drink – coffee for adults, hot chocolate or juice for kids. When you turn a weekly coffee date into a family tradition, you’ll foster relaxed conversations where you take turns talking, which can boost your child’s vocabulary and nurture your child’s storytelling skills, which improves their reading comprehension down the road.
Many families also find that they naturally reminisce during these weekly coffee dates, sharing recent memories or even stories from their family’s history. When you engage in that kind of storytelling with your child on a regular basis, you improve your child’s self-esteem and give them the gift of higher resilience in the face of adversity.
Make it official: Try “Family Coffee Date.”
How to do it: Pick a time for your weekly family coffee date and add it to your calendar as a recurring event. To get the conversation going, ask one fun question from our special set of Conversation Starters for Kids. These conversation starters are designed to boost your connection as a family, plus they’ll help you teach your child the art of a good conversation, unlocking all the powerful benefits listed above. Some families also like to bring along a favorite board or card game to play while they enjoy their drinks. Here’s a list of our all-time favorite family board games for all ages, many of which we sell in our family-owned shop here. Among the games we stock, the best portable games for bringing along to a coffee shop are Sleeping Queens, Spot It!, Rat-a-Tat Cat, and Quiddler Junior.
7. Honor favorite foods
Whatever it is that your family loves to eat, from pizza to breakfast tacos, make it a family tradition to have it on a specific day of the week, every week. That way, you’ll be giving your family something they love on a regular basis, plus whoever handles deciding on meals will have one less meal to figure out every week.
Make it official: Take whatever food it is you’ll be having and combine it with the day, like Burger Tuesdays, Pizza Wednesdays, or Pancake Saturdays. Bonus points for alliteration like Taco Tuesdays!
How to do it: If you’re not sure what everyone loves most of all, start a conversation at the dinner table by asking, “What’s your favorite meal that we have on a regular basis?” Then depending on what you hear back, plan to have the top favorite once a week on the same day.
Variations: If you have differing opinions in your family, you can always have more than one meal tradition, or you can alternate between them. For example, in my family we have Pizza Wednesdays every other week and Breakfast for Dinner the other weeks to accommodate the kids who prefer one over the other.
8. Pick out free books
Set aside one day a week where your family heads to your local library so everyone can pick out a book (or twenty) to check out and take home. When you model regular library use and turn it into a fun family event, you’ll help foster your child’s appreciation for books and set them on the path to becoming a lifelong reader. Research shows that when kids grow up in a home full of books, that gives them a major boost in literacy (and numeracy!) that lasts into the adult years.
Make it official: If you go the same day every week, you can name your tradition by the day, like “Library Thursdays.” Or if the day changes, you can call it “Library Haul Day” or “Free Books Day.”
How to do it: When you get to the library, let your child pick out whatever they want, even if it’s a Barbie early reader that makes you cringe. If you criticize your child’s choice in books, they could internalize that and become less interested in picking out books, which can dampen their excitement about reading in general. This is a lesson I learned the hard way with my oldest child. After I realized my mistake, I stepped back and encouraged her choices to rebuild her confidence. She’s now a major bookworm, but it took some time to undo the damage of my “helping.”
Variations: Go through your owned books to decide whether you have any you’re ready to send to a new home. Then find a Little Free Library in your area, add your books, and pick out a few new-to-you books to take home with you.
Monthly, Quarterly, or Annual Family Traditions
For family traditions that take more than an hour or two, you might find that those work best on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. Here, you’ll find ideas for family traditions you might engage in once a month to renew your sense of connection and belonging. If you like a family tradition example in this section but monthly feels like too much to commit to, consider adding it to your calendar once a quarter or once a year.
For all the family tradition examples in this section, many families highly recommend adding the tradition to your calendar as a recurring reminder.
1. Outsource dinner
Picking up takeout for dinner can get pricey fast, especially if you have a big family. But if you can swing it, a monthly takeout night can be a fun family tradition everyone looks forward to. Whoever typically cooks in your family gets a break in the kitchen, and disrupting the regular dinner routine can make the night feel special to everyone else. Bonus points if you try a new restaurant or order something new off the menu for everyone to sample, family-style. Research shows that even a small bit of novelty can deliver a rush of dopamine, and dopamine plays a role in human bonding.
Make it official: The most popular name for this family tradition is “Family Takeout Night.”
How to do it: Pick one day a month, and make that your official Family Takeout Night. For example, some families make it the first Friday or Saturday of every month. If dinner isn’t a good fit, another option is to get takeout for another meal, like Family Donut Day or First Saturday Breakfast Tacos. To get the whole family into this tradition, you can rotate who gets to pick the restaurant every month. Also, consider letting your child pick out what they want on the menu. Research shows that when you give your child autonomy to make decisions within reasonable boundaries, their wellbeing improves and you foster a positive emotional family climate.
2. Pick five small acts
You might have heard before that regularly helping others is an important factor in living a long, happy life. Research shows that even very young children are happier when helping others. But starting a daily “random acts of kindness” routine can make the experience feel meaningless. To keep the experience meaningful and enjoyable for the whole family, pick one day a month where you intentionally perform five small acts of kindness together. One study found that people who performed five giving acts all in a single day increased happiness.
Make it official: You might call this your “Family Kindness Day,” “Random Acts of Kindness Day,” or “Family Kindness Marathon.”
How to do it: Set aside one day a month for your Family Kindness Day, brainstorm small things your family can do for others, and execute on five of them. To help you brainstorm, check out our list of The Best Acts of Kindness for Kids That Will Teach Compassion. For example:
Bake fresh cookies and hand them out to your neighbors.
Write a thank-you note to someone.
Go through toys and pick some to donate to charity.
Collect non-perishable food in your neighborhood and donate it to a local food pantry.
If you have an elderly neighbor, help them out by mowing their lawn or weeding their garden.
Run a lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to your favorite charity.
Surprise a worker with a big tip, like a restaurant server, delivery driver, or your neighborhood coffee shop’s barista.
Go through your books to find those you can part with, then find a nearby Little Free Library and restock it.
3. Take a day
While everyone experiences anxious feelings from time to time, research shows that anxiety disorders are on the rise with children. To help protect your child from the harmful effects of stress plus give yourself a break from the daily grind, consider setting aside one day a month as a mental health day.
On your family’s mental health day, you can take a regular weekday off from work and school—or if that’s not feasible, pick your child up early from school. Studies consistently show that rest is essential for dealing with stress, and in fact rest makes you more persistent and productive by working with your brain instead of against it. Because mental health days can be so restorative for kids, some states in the U.S. are even passing legislation to allow kids to take regular mental health days off from school.
Make it official: The most common name for this tradition is “Mental Health Day,” but I heard from a couple families who call it “Get out of Jail Free Day” in reference to the Monopoly card!
How to do it: To get the most out of your family’s mental health day, think of something special you can do together. If you all retreat to your favorite form of screen time, that won’t actually help your brain get the rest it truly needs. Research shows that the single most efficient strategy for dealing with stress is physical activity,47 so find a fun way to move your bodies together, like going on a hike, walking or biking around your neighborhood, taking a basketball or tennis rackets to a nearby park for a quick game, popping in a yoga DVD to do together, or kicking off your day with a family dance party. After that, do something to connect because connection with loved ones is necessary for overcoming stress as well.48 For example, you could play a fun new board game, read aloud to your child, or make art or color in a coloring book together. As another option, you can grab our Family Connection Cards, then pick one at random to do on your mental health day. The Family Connection Cards are based on the science of what actually works when you need to connect with your child, so no matter what card you pick, you’ll be helping your child (and you!) recharge their batteries.
4. Snuggle up and read
One of my family’s favorite traditions is our monthly Family Read-a-Thon. Once a month, we set aside a weekend morning or afternoon, grab a stack of books, and cuddle up on the couch to read. A Family Read-a-Thon gives everyone a fun break from the hustle and bustle of a busy weekend. Plus, studies show that reading aloud grows your child’s brain, builds their empathy for others, and improves their behavior. Remember: No one is ever too old to be read to! You can read aloud to tweens, teens, and even to your spouse or partner.
Make it official: My personal favorite name for this tradition is “Family Read-a-Thon,” but I also heard one family call it their “Family Reading Spree.”
How to do it: We have a wide range of ages in our family, so we will typically read a handful of picture books and a couple chapters from chapter books. For chapter books, you can start a new book to be your family read-aloud book – and then make it a daily family tradition to read a little bit each day – or you can get a stack of chapter books and read the first five pages of each one for what we call a “book flight,” which just means to sample a handful of books to see which one grabs you most. After that, my kids will often get hooked on their favorite story from our book flight and continue to read that independently after our Read-a-Thon. If you need book recommendations, check out The Ultimate List of the Best Picture Books, Endorsed by Kids And Parents and 48 Awesome Chapter Books for Kids Your Child Will Devour.
Variations: Another option is to start an audiobook you can all listen to together while you do something else, like color in a parent-child coloring book, build with LEGOs or Magna-Tiles, or fold that mountain of laundry that’s been accumulating during the week.
5. Do nothing
If a monthly mental health day isn’t doable for your family, consider instituting a Do Nothing Day on the weekend where you all spend the day together. Similar to a mental health day, a Do Nothing Day gives you and your child a break from the daily stress of family life, which is important for helping you survive the harmful effects of stress.
Make it official: Most families call this tradition “Do Nothing Day,” but some alternatives are “Together Day” and “No To-Do-List Day.”
How to do it: For one weekend day a month, forget the errands you’ve been meaning to run and throw your to-do list out the window. Then as a family, brainstorm one or two fun things you might do together. Keep in mind that TV, video games, or mindless surfing aren’t restorative, but aside from that, go with whatever sounds fun. You can bust out a jigsaw puzzle for the whole family to solve together, bake something yummy for breakfast, or build an epic fort with your kids using cardboard boxes, sheets, and Christmas lights. Some families use our Family Connection Cards on their Do Nothing Days and pick one random card to do as a family. Whatever you decide to do as a family, take your time and enjoy being together because this isn’t about marking something off your to-do list.
6. Schedule a Day in the Life
Set aside one day a month, quarter, or year to focus on capturing all the small, quiet moments with your family on camera. As parents, we typically grab our phones or cameras to snap a few photos of special events like birthday parties and Halloween costumes, but we don’t always remember to capture the everyday moments that make up the majority of our lives together with our kids. The intent focus on your child’s face as they build with LEGOs. A sweet, impromptu hug between siblings. Shared giggles at the dinner table after everyone’s done eating and is just enjoying the time together. In a couple years, those are the moments you’ll be glad you captured on camera.
Make it official: This one goes by “A Day in the Life,” but one family said they call it “Family Picture Day.”
How to do it: Plan on keeping your camera in your hands most of the day, and take a ton of pictures. You can always delete the stinkers later. If you have an older child or a partner who’s interested in playing along, turn the camera over to them for an hour and let them capture moments from their perspective. For more tips on how to start this family tradition, check out 53 photo prompts for your Day in the Life Project from my friend Tiffany.
Variations: As another option, you can hire a photographer to take candid family photos while you go about your regular day, as opposed to the typical posed family photos we tend to expect when hiring a photographer. And don’t forget video: Set up a video camera or phone to record an everyday moment, like a family meal, reading a bedtime story, or your kids all solving a jigsaw puzzle together. I got a mini tabletop tripod and phone mount for this reason, and I love the videos we’ve captured. (Thanks to my friend Erica for this idea!)
7. Pick your favorites
On the last day of every month, pick your top 10 favorite photos from all the photos you’ve taken on your phone and/or camera that month. Then pop them into a slideshow to share with your family before, during, or after a meal. Reflecting back on those moments as a family will spark your loved ones to share stories of those memories, plus make everyone feel all the feels.
Make it official: You might call this your “Family Slideshow” or “Family Photo Round-Up.”
How to do it: If you have a partner or spouse or an older child who also takes photos, ask them to send their favorites to you to include in the photo slideshow. To create the slideshow, you can use a free tool like Google Slides.
Variations: To take this a step further, you can devote a wall in your home to displaying prints of your favorite family photos, then get your favorites printed every month, quarter, or year to swap them out. You can DIY this yourself or get a ready-made photo wall display like this. Some families also use these monthly “best of” photos to create a family yearbook. After you pick out your favorites photos, you can make a scrapbook or have them printed into a hardcover book at Shutterfly.
8. Be curious
Challenge your family to learn something new together once in a while, just for fun. Playfully testing out a new hobby or activity will open new neural pathways in your child’s brain,49 plus regularly learning something new is one of the best steps you can take to keep your own brain healthy as you age.50 A few months ago, we decided as a family that it would be fun to learn how to talk in a British accent, so we took a weekend morning to watch a few videos about how to do it, then challenged ourselves to talk that way the rest of the day. Our accents were horrible, but we had a blast, and the kids still talk about that day, months later.
Make it official: A couple names to consider are “Family Curiosity Day” or “Be Curious Day.”
How to do it: In a central location, you can keep a running list of things that sound fun to learn and encourage everyone in the family to add to it whenever inspiration strikes. Some families have a special notebook they keep on the coffee table or on the kitchen counter, and they call it their “curiosity journal.” Then once a month or whatever frequency works for your family, set aside a morning or afternoon to pick something to learn together. You can watch videos together, check out books from the library ahead of time, look for apps focused on whatever you want to learn, or ask someone you know to give you an in-person lesson. To kick off your curiosity journal, here are a few ideas: learn a new language, go bird-watching, pick up knitting or crocheting, practice yoga, tackle something new in the kitchen like baking bread from scratch, make origami, learn magic tricks, take your photography skills to the next level, try geocaching, make candles or soap, or take up astronomy.
9. Collect change to make change
Challenge your family to collect any spare change they come across, then once a month count it up together and decide on a charity where you can donate it. You’ll be teaching your child the importance of giving back, plus research shows that helping others is an important factor in living a long, happy life.
Make it official: In my family, we call this “The Great Change Round-Up,” but I heard from one family that called it their “Spare Change Drive.”
How to do it: Set up a jar for collecting spare change and keep it in an easily accessible location. (Important: If you have young children who still put things in their mouths, be sure to keep this jar out of their reach! One of my kids once swallowed a coin and ended up in the hospital, so I learned the hard way that you can never be too careful.) Tell your child any time they come across a coin on the ground, they can pick it up to add to your spare change jar. You can also plant some seeds about where else they can find spare change, like in the nooks and crannies of your vehicle, in pants pockets in the laundry hamper, under couch cushions (side benefit: my kids will regularly pull them out and clean up everything under the cushions, looking for spare change!), and so on. Kids tend to get excited by the challenge of seeing how much they can find, and you might even catch them asking neighbors and relatives if they have any spare change to donate to charity.
Variations: In our family, we also set up a “matching” program where however much the kids scrounged up, we match that penny for penny to double the donation and make an even bigger impact.
10. Walk in the dark
Every night of a full moon, get the whole family outside for a nighttime walk to experience the magic of the night. When you cultivate these moments of awe and wonder for your child, it benefits their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, plus it makes them kinder and more generous.
Make it official: Many families call these walks “Full Moon Walks.”
How to do it: You can automatically add the phases of the moon to your Google Calendar. Then on those evenings, plan for a quick dinner so you can head out for a Full Moon Walk afterwards. Listen for the sounds of nighttime, and point out any wildlife or plants you happen to notice.
Family Traditions to Celebrate Milestones
Simply put, family celebrations are fun. But research shows they’re important too: Like other types of family traditions, celebrations strengthen your bond as a family.53 When a child or someone else in your family reaches an important milestone, here are a few family tradition examples to help you celebrate.
Kids (and most adults!) love to feel special on their birthday. Use the ideas in this section to harness the power of family traditions and delight your child every birthday.
1. Say yes
Surprise your child by saying “yes” when you’d usually say “no.” Can I have a piece of chocolate? Yes! Can we play a game? Yes! Can you teach me how to drive? Uhh…yes? You definitely don’t have to go to the extremes the parents in the movie Yes Day did, but a “yes day” can be a family tradition your child looks forward to all year. In fact, one of my kids once told me she didn’t care if she got any physical presents on her birthday. All she wanted was a yes day!
Make it official: “Yes Day” gets the point across perfectly!
How to do it: You can tell your child ahead of time that their birthday will be a yes day, or you can surprise them on the morning of their birthday. If they’re not familiar with the concept, you can pick up a copy of the sweet picture book Yes Day and read that together. Many families find it helpful to set some boundaries for yes days. For example, in my family we give the birthday kid a monetary budget they have to stick to that day. When the money’s gone, it’s gone, and they have to switch to free activities. As an added bonus, your child will get practice working through tough (for them) spending decisions like, “Do I get the new toy I want, or do I order every dessert on the menu?”
2. Send a message in a bottle
As every parent knows, kids grow up fast. In the words of author Gretchen Rubin, “The days are long, but the years are short.” To capture the sweetest memories of your child before they slip through your fingers, start a birthday letter tradition. On your child’s birthday, write them a letter to capture what they’re like right now, what they’re passionate about, what you love about them, and anything else that pops into your head.
Make it official: A simple “Birthday Letter” works well.
How to do it: Write a birthday letter to your child on paper or in a word processing app on your computer. You can either give your child the letter now, or you can save them all until they’re older or until they turn 18 to share with them. Some parents do this and then present all the letters as a high school graduation present.
Variations: If email is more your speed, you can set up an email account for your child and email them a letter every birthday.
3. Make their favorite
Whatever your child’s favorite dinner is, make that for their birthday. Or if their favorite dinner is from a restaurant, pick up takeout as a birthday treat. This is a simple way to make your child feel special on their birthday.
Make it official: You can call this “Birthday Girl/Boy’s Choice” for dinner.
How to do it: This family tradition may require planning ahead, so a few days before your child’s birthday, ask them what they want for dinner. Or if you already know what their favorite is, you can just surprise them with that on the big day.
4. Measure and celebrate
Make it a family tradition to mark your child’s height on a doorframe or wall in your home on their birthday every year. You’ll marvel at how they grow over time, and they’ll beam at the visible proof of getting older and bigger.
Make it official: You might call this tradition “Measure-Up Time” or a “Birthday Height Check.”
How to do it: Find a doorframe or wall that’s out of the way where you can get away with adding pencil marks every year, then set a reminder in your calendar or phone to mark your child’s height. Or if you want to create a family keepsake, you can get a standalone growth chart like this wooden “ruler” and attach it to a wall.
Variations: To take this family tradition one step further, you can do something to celebrate how much your child has grown. For example, if they grew an inch, you can let them pick out an inch worth of candy bars at the store. Or for every inch they’ve grown, you can give them $10 in birthday money.
Whether your child goes to school outside the home or you homeschool, these family tradition examples are the perfect fit for celebrating milestones related to that huge part of your child’s life.
1. Interview your child
On the first day of school every year, take a few minutes to ask your child a handful of thought-provoking questions and record their answers. You’ll capture a heartwarming snapshot of them as they are right now and after a few school years, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind memento.
Make it official: Try calling this the “First Day Interview” or “Back to School Interview.”
How to do it: Get my free printable first-day-of-school questionnaire here, print it, and fill it out with your child on the first day of school. Don’t worry if your kid is in seventh grade and you haven’t ever done this before. It’s never too late to start! If you enjoy the first-day-of-school interview, you can also get a free first-day-of-summer questionnaire here for a similar family tradition after the last day of school.
Variations: If your child is open to it, another alternative is to pull out your phone and record a video of your child verbally answering the questions from the questionnaire.
2. Get a special treat
On the first and/or last day of school, make it a tradition to celebrate with a special treat. Whether you make a treat at home or go out to pick it up from a restaurant or store, you’ll give your child something to look forward to. If your child feels anxious or worried about the first day of school, something to get excited about can be a welcome distraction.
Make it official: Combine the name of the treat with the milestone, like “First Day of School Pancakes” or “Last Day of School Ice Cream.”
How to do it: On the morning of, you could make pancakes, grab breakfast tacos, or pick up donuts on the way. After the school day, you can go out for ice cream, take the whole family to a favorite restaurant, or make a special dinner your child loves but doesn’t get very often. (In our house, the kids always pick mac-n-cheese!) One more idea I heard from a few families was to celebrate with a bonfire and s’mores in the backyard.
3. Snap a photo
Pick a place inside your home, on your porch, or in your yard that you can use every year to take first-day-of-school photos. While your child may grumble now, photos taken in the same place once a year will give you an invaluable memento, like a time-lapse series showing how your child has grown over the years.
Make it official: Most families refer to this tradition as “First Day of School Photos.”
How to do it: If you’ve tried this before, you probably already know that this isn’t most kids’ favorite back-to-school family tradition. To grease the wheels, you can talk with your child ahead of time about the photos and why they’re important to you, then ask for their ideas on how the experience could be more fun for them. For example, maybe they want to take a silly photo where they’re doing a handstand or making a goofy face. Or they might hate standing still, so you could break it up by having them do jumping jacks or run around the yard while you snap some action shots. As an alternative, if your child is excited about something they got for the new school year like a snazzy lunchbox or backpack, encourage them to show that off in the photos.
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