Is family bedtime a constant battle? Do transitional activities result in the digging in of heels, complaints, and tears? Is mealtime a battle of wills? Does your child experience anxiety surrounding new activities? The constant resistance to parental guidance and support can take its toll on well-meaning, over-worked parents. There is a solution and its simplicity may surprise you—rhythm. The creation of rhythm in our homes has a magical effect on children’s behavior. Rhythm strengthens parental authority as it creates channels for discipline that are more intrinsic than opposed. It provides security, safety, and predictability that contribute to a child’s sense of order and well-being. Rhythm creates connections and closeness. For a parent, it simplifies and adds quality to family life. And, while it may seem daunting to commit to activities that create a healthy family rhythm with regularity, the outcome will serve as motivation to continue the quest!
Rhythm versus Routine
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, rhythm reflects those daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal changes that make up the cadence of our lives. Conversely, the concept of routine can conjure up rigid timelines and inflexible schedules. Rhythm is distinct from routine in that it's about the ebb and the flow—a fluid grace as opposed to stern schedules. When we are considering implementing a healthy home rhythm we must consider the individual needs of all family members: quiet and active times, the coming together or moving apart, downtime versus structured activities. It is about finding the point of balance in your family’s day—that sweet spot between rigidity and chaos. Rhythms are markers that not only provide the steady calm but also punctuate those special occasions. Rhythm values lie in the intention behind it.
Rhythm Provides Security through Predictability
For many of us these are uncertain times. Worries about the economic, social, or the political landscape are the cause of anxiety for many Americans. It is the concern of the unknown—those elements out of our control— that fuels anxieties, and so it is for our children. When the only predictable aspect of our family schedule is its unpredictability, it is time to revisit our priorities! Children thrive where there is a sense of order. Rhythms are markers of our days, weeks, and years that we either impose or bestow upon our children. They can bring a sense of security, safety, and peace to our homes or create patterns that are well beyond a child’s sensory world. It is within those chaotic family patterns where children exhibit behavioral problems.
Rhythm Eases Child Anxiety and Resistance to Transitions
A wonderful daily rhythm that easily accommodates most families schedule and serves to curtail transitional behavioral outbursts is to review the upcoming day with children. This process provides not only an element of predictability, security, and safety but also models conscientious and courteous behavior. Who is on pick-up duty from school? What time do we need to be at violin lessons? Will we bring a snack or stop somewhere along the way? This simple process takes the uncertainty— and for many children—the anxiousness, out of their day. As mentioned above, when establishing rhythm we must look at the intention behind it. The key is implementing this rhythm when you don’t have one foot out of the door or your cell phone under your chin. A successful rhythm lies in the quality of the process. It provides the opportunity to connect with your children in a meaningful, purposeful way. And, while your child doesn’t have autonomy to control their own days, they can feel safe and secure knowing that someone competent and caring is at the helm.
Rhythm Provides Powerful Connections that Meet Children’s Emotional and Physical Needs
The best rhythms of healthy family life don’t only offer consistency: they provide connection. They are purposeful. Many of the behavioral outbursts parents experience throughout the course of a day are the result of children’s unmet needs. The child who cries for ice cream or playground time after school is most likely not experiencing an insatiable craving for ice cream or the playground swing, but rather an event or space where you, the parent, are both emotionally and physically present for him/her. What the child is craving is that deep comfort of your company. By incorporating this “outbreath” rhythm into your family routine, you are literally carving out heart-space for your child. A morning, bedtime, or after school rhythm creates a natural “pause” in you and your child’s day where feelings, experiences, and thoughts are more likely to be expressed. When these rhythms flow because activities happen about the same time each day, rather on a rushed or harried schedule, we are more present for our children and they receive the attention they are seeking. These daily interactions are also an antidote for children who “demand” prolonged bedtime routines or excessive amounts of attention as their emotional need for quality interaction has been met at various times throughout the day.
Rhythm Eases Meal Time Troubles
Food should be a source of nutrition for children, but for many children, food becomes a source of empowerment. Refusing to eat what the rest of the family eats or what is placed in front of them offers another opportunity for children to flex some dictatorial muscles. When kids sit down at the table they see a fight that they are sure to win. Well-meaning parents concerned about their children’s comfort (and feeling worn-down after a long day) will often give in to food preference demands. A healthy rhythm at dinner doesn’t start with the first bite. Involving children in food prep is a rhythm that will not only ease the transition to the dinner table but will create children who have a vested interest or stake in the meal. They are more likely to try something new if they have helped prepare it some way. Another helpful rhythm is a weekly menu that family members can look forward to and count on. When children know that Tuesdays is taco night, it reduces friction around the meal. If a complaining child doesn’t like tacos but loves lasagna, parents can calmly let him know that he will have something to look forward on Thursday! A weekly menu also allows for a punctuation mark in the rhythm when the family does something special outside the home.
A Healthy Home Rhythm is the Secret to Happy Home Life
These days, there aren’t many people who characterize their lives in terms of the rhythm of the earth, yet our lives revolve around rhythms that shape our work, sleep, academics, and holidays. Rhythm is the marker of our lives. A healthy home rhythm helps us respond from the heart rather than react to chaotic or stressful scenarios. As parents, the rhythms we adopt affect our children; we govern the markers of our children’s day. Being mindful of those rhythms will create daily shifts in energy in ourselves and our home that will help us create a nurturing routine. In the case of rhythm, meaning lies in the repetitions. It signals to your children that we do this everyday because it is important: you are important. It will contribute to the values you want to instill in your children. Rhythms are the daily, weekly, seasonal, and yearly activities that we consciously choose with intention and carry out with love.