Dear Parents,

As our children are headed into the school year, whatever that looks like for you, I’d like to share a few observations:

  1. I had more hope at the end of last school year than I do at the beginning of this one.
  2. I don’t think I’m alone because a couple of weeks ago I had more calls from past clients than at any other time during the pandemic.
  3. I’m in a strange limbo of feeling stuck between looking forward to working more and feeling the need to keep my calendar open in case of schools shut down again.

Last year at this time, I was busy preparing separate school stations for four boys. I was optimistic. Unfortunately, no matter what we provided for them, my children are not among those who thrived in virtual school. This year, despite having a full virtual option, we are choosing the in-person option. This was an easier choice at the beginning of summer before pediatric cases increased. I resonate with what I hear from others: It feels like I am choosing between their physical health and their social/emotional health. Fortunately, we live in an area that is highly vaccinated and values masking indoors.

Still, this is just one of the many things sitting on my mind and heart at this time. There are many shifts occurring around us that have impacts on today as well as our children’s future.

How are you doing? How are your children doing? How is your relationship?

I find myself reflecting on these questions. As I tend to my four children, I notice how our relationships are different. For some, I am still a main source of connection. For others, I’m part of an expanding support system, as it should be. I give my teens more space as they sort things among their peers, gather information from other sources, and then come to me and their father to process, assimilate, or discard it. For the younger ones, I am still a primary source of comfort. “Mom, I’m thinking about death again, will you hold me?” one child asked last night.

Though all of us are in different stages of development, we are all finding comfort in rituals.

Rituals offer:
  • predictability
  • trust
  • safety
  • connection
  • rhythm
The simpler the better:
  • read together
  • read the same book (younger children)
  • walk
  • eat a meal together
  • light a candle during dinner
Playful rituals offer connection:
  • Read a playful book like Tickle Monster (I have a son who wants to read it every night!).
  • Set up family game night. Our family of wide-range ages enjoys everything from Exploding Kittens to Catan.
  • Choose a playful interaction (try this book for younger kids).
  • Arm wrestle.
  • Play legos.
  • Draw. One fun family drawing activity is to give everyone a piece of paper. Step 1: Draw a face/head with a neck. Step 2: Fold the paper so only the lines of the neck are showing. Step 3: Everyone passes to their left or right. Then, repeat for the chest and arms, folding the paper so the next person knows where to begin the legs. Repeat again for the feet, folding the paper so the next person can see where to begin the feet. Then, pass again and name the character. Pass a final time, unfold the paper, and show everyone. If you like, you can invite storytelling around the characters. Or simply invite people to guess what the characters’ favorite things are. 
Keys to successful rituals:
  • Put down phones
  • Prioritize eye contact
  • Reflect what you hear/see your child doing to let them know you see them/they matter
  • Reflect their emotions without judgment/advice
  • Be flexible
  • Experiment with “yes” instead of “not now” (This way you can see what rituals emerge naturally.)
The power of rituals

Recently, my eight-year-old son brought me the Tickle Monster book while I was in a session with my therapist. I explained that we plan to read it after the session and said something like, “It’s his favorite book and he really looks forward to it.” My son said, “It’s more than a book!” He was right:

It’s an experience of physical and emotional connection and relationship that he can rely on in an unpredictable world.

We all need that right now.

So, parents, as you think about how rituals can help your family, consider how they might help you too.

Areas of life to bring in rituals:
  • Body — movement, yoga, walk, evening herbal tea, gardening
  • Mind — reading fiction, crosswords, journal, puzzles, gardening
  • Soul — prayer, meditation, daily religious studies, gardening
  • Relationships — call a friend, have a date night, write a letter, send a card, have coffee

You may have discovered one of my rituals … it’s no secret that my garden has helped me cope with life changes over the past year. Here’s a post about how I bring the peace I find outside in.

Rituals simplify a complex world. They invite us to focus on connections available in the here and now. They strengthen relationships with ourselves and others. Consider inviting them into your daily or weekly routines. No matter what, as we move forward into the fall and winter … essentially, the next unpredictable phase of this ongoing pandemic, find ways to tend to you, your children, and the relationships that hold you.


Dr. Keller



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