Shape Your Family Spirit

By Alexa Joy Sherman

Celebrating all the things that make your family unique can help boost your child’s sense of self and belonging—and there’s no better time than to do so than the holiday season. Here’s how to develop and reinforce your family’s special culture.

Establish your traditions. Because we all come from our own unique backgrounds, the family culture we create as new parents will be a blend of those experiences, beliefs, interests and ideals. And whether it’s a certain way you celebrate birthdays or holidays, a special trip you take every winter or a particular way you get ready for bed each night, these traditions don’t need to be complex or time-consuming. “Even the simplest rituals, such as the family dinner, can be powerful,” says says Lesli Gee, coauthor of The Family ROI Experience: A Step-by-Step Guide to Realizing Your Best Family (CreateSpace, 2010). Indeed, it’s through these experiences that children come to understand their identity and how their family functions.

Share common interests. When we have kids, a lot of us tend to toss our hobbies and interest aside—at least temporarily. But it doesn’t have to be that way: Instead, bring your child into the fold by pursuing interests together to set the tone for who you are and what matters to you, as well as emphasize the importance of teamwork. Love board games? Pick one night a week when you all sit down for a little friendly competition. Or, if you’re musical, maybe you’ll teach your child to play an instrument or enroll her in lessons and then have impromptu jam sessions as a family; she might just sit and listen at first, but eventually she’ll become part of the show.

Discuss your identity. Through your family traditions and interests, your culture will begin to take shape and you’ll become clearer about what’s most important to you as a unit. It may be your strong ties to a particular religion or nationality, or the activities you’ve been exploring together. Or it could be more about your deeper core values, such as empathy, love of learning, independence, resilience or creativity, says Madeline Levine, PhD, author of Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success (HarperCollins, 2012). “Carefully consider those things that are truly meaningful to you,” she says. “It can help to rank your values and choose, say, the top five.” (Need help pinpointing what matters to you? Try the Family Culture Questionnaire.)

Lead by example. Of course, no amount of conversation about your family’s beliefs will mean anything unless you’re practicing what you preach. “It’s important to come up with a plan to clarify and implement your values in day-to-day life so that your children are regularly exposed to those things you consider most important,” Levine says. Think it’s essential to treat people with respect? Remember to keep your cool with the cashier when you’re stuck in a super slow checkout line.

Create your constitution. Once you’ve developed a clear sense of what your family culture is, document the values and traditions that represent who you are. It could be a set of rules, a mission statement or even a family crest, logo or motto, says Gee. You might even literally pledge allegiance to it—and to each other—after you’ve created it. “You can use visual, written or spoken elements—or a combination of all three,” she says. Try pulling favorite family photos or looking through magazines for images that really capture who you are and what matters most to you. If you opt to list some rules or agreements, you might even be able to find wall art that perfectly captures what you’re all about.