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Family Rituals For Children

For thousands of years, the main levers for change that parents have had are fear, bribery, and distraction. These still work in many families today but they don't work well with bright kids.

Bright kids "pay it back and then some." If you give them anger, they give you more anger, with a twist. Bribe them, and you'll find that even the most basic household task has an extravagant cost. Try to dominate and control, and they either openly defy you or else get sneaky and use "rat cunning."
Family Rituals For Children

In families with bright kids, we need to shift the main levers of change from fear, bribery, and distraction to praise, habit, and motivation. There is a lovely Zen teaching paradox (or koan) that sums up this type of parenting. It is:
Hold on tight with an open hand.
Hold on tight with an open hand? What this means for parenting bright kids is guiding them without controlling them; using your power to shape family routines and habits without descending into conflict and dismay. This doesn't mean you need:
  • the patience of Nelson Mandela,
  • the determination of Napoleon Bonaparte,
  • the caring concern of Florence Nightingale, 
  • the wisdom of Solomon, 
  • Love of Mother Teresa, combined with 
  • the strategic planning of Genghis Khan. 
What you need rituals.

Rituals are family acts that occur regardless of the vagaries of life. Together with belonging, they are the very foundation of resilience for bright kids. Rituals can be as commonplace as the Sunday roast, the walk after dinner, the movies on Tuesday night, or the visit to Grandma's each week. They can be exciting or so regular that they become dull. The power of rituals for bright kids is that they deliver an unambiguous message: this is the way we do things here.
Rituals do not require discussion and debate. They are not open for negotiation. They are regular events that parents decide on and make happen. Rituals are the rocks that the river of family life flows around.
Families do not work well as democracies; they work best as benevolent dictatorships. Kids do not have to be consulted about family rituals. Parents can decide on the rituals they want and implement them.
Most families, when they get a bit ragged and frayed, find they need to put new rituals into place. While rituals can be about having a pleasant time, they can also be about the necessary efficiencies of life. Let's talk about three types of ritual in areas that are often issues for families with bright kids:
  1. getting out of the house on a weekday,
  2. household cleanliness, and
  3. spending some time together. 
1. Getting out of the house on a weekday 

To get the kids to school on time, we need to leave the house at 8 a.m. sharp. It's now 7:30 a.m. A battle is raging in the bathroom. One of my kids has slept in, another one has finished breakfast and is complaining about the others. My levels of cortisol and adrenaline have reached all-time peaks, when one of the kids says she needs a special hat for an activity. The cat has reacted to all the energy in the house and has just vomited on the rug.

Sound familiar in any way?

Across the country, in homes everywhere, a dramatic soap opera is played out every morning. Tricky behaviors can be at their peak when the clock is ticking and the pressure is on. The classic error is trying to do too much in too little time. To find out more, you can check out Family Rituals For Children.