My new book

Below is one chapter from my new e-book that you can find on Amazon

Holidays, rituals, routine

We are what we repeatedly do


Ten-year-old “G” with his mother came to my office for the first time. The family was looking for a doctor who would help them solve an enduring problem: the episodes of vomiting over the last few years.
Situation was simplified by the fact that the child had seen various specialists; the experts had made the necessary examinations to rule out possible diseases, so I didn’t have to think about all that. On the other hand, no one had been able to explain the disease, and they came to me with the hope that I was more skilled professionally than the others.

I could not disappoint.

We began to sort through things, but soon came to a dead end, since there were no other symptoms. We discussed the circumstances of the incidents. I will not burden my readers with the details. Let me just say what we found. The boy would vomit when his regular daily routine was disrupted: when going to sleep late, when on vacation, and when there were guests over at the house.

At first, the mother was incredulous, but the more she thought about the episodes, the more convinced she became of the correctness of our conclusions. We agreed on a strict adherence to a schedule every day. It was easy to implement. The vomiting subsided.

I remembered this incident when I recently came across an article in the “Pediatric News,” dedicated to new treatments for PTSD (Posttraumatic stress disorder) in children. The article was not about new drugs or their combinations for the treatment of this problem.
It was about the healing power of an established routine, customs and rituals.

Take another look at the quote to this chapter. In this wisdom lies the advice to establish good habits.

Indeed, we feel that we know others when we can predict how they act in certain situations. When people change their usual behavior, we say that we “don’t recognize them.”

It’s surprising how changes in established routine translate into the behavior, self-esteem and well-being of our children.

Recently I consulted a mother of my patients, who came to share her concerns and to ask for advice. She has two children: a four-year-old boy, “M,” and a two-year-old girl, “C”. Both are wonderful, healthy children; go to pre-school, but in different classes. The boy is very sympathetic to the needs of other children, feels their pain, blowing on each skinned knee, feeling sorry for anyone in need of sympathy. Every day at lunch he comes to his sister’s class to feed her. She, in turn, idolizes her brother.

One day the mother was urgently asked to come to class, because the girl got sick. She was crying inconsolably, which was not typical, and the teachers decided that she must be ill. The mother found the girl in tears, but when she sat her down in the car, she calmed down and chirped merrily on her way home. But at night began the inexplicable: “C” woke up crying, so that nobody and nothing could calm her down. This continued for each subsequent night. During the day everything was fine. In the evening the family was waiting for the next nightmare. This went on for two weeks. Then completely exhausted mother came to me: “Help me bring back my child. She seems to have changed. I want my “C” back.”

We talked for a long time analyzing the situation. The girl was absolutely healthy physically. There were no conflicts at home. We tried to find something though … And finally, we succeeded. It turned out that it all started on the day when “M” was ill and missed one day of pre-school. “C” rode with her mother in the car in the morning, and at lunch “M” did not come to feed her.

It took us two weeks to return the child to her normal state.
“Are you serious?” – You ask – “A little child, a (seemingly) little episode!”
Yet, that is all it took.

This story allows us to understand how at first glance insignificant deviation from the familiar can act on the psyche of a child.

I often hear from worried parents, how irritable their 8- or 9-month baby has become, and after some questions, it turns out that all this “coincided” with the arrival of guests or grandparents coming from far away. Is this a coincidence? I doubt it. Or rather, I know that it is no coincidence.

The benefits of an established order of life are colossal.
No wonder the first recommendation in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder is a permanent establishment and reinforcement of the daily routine, activities related to preparation for the new school day, fixing things in certain places in the child’s room. All this helps to be more organized. Teens who are accustomed to a routine set in the house (dinner with the family, certain time for homework and entertainment) usually reach higher academic achievements and have fewer behavioral problems.

If a parent falls ill, but the established order in the house is maintained, it helps the children survive the difficult time. They retain a sense (though somewhat shaken) of stability.

We adults, of course, also live according to certain rules that we acquired in childhood. Once upon a time, listening to a lecture by one psychologist, I was very surprised by her story of how she taught her family (her husband and children) to say “thank you” after a meal. I had no idea how it could be otherwise, because I had grown into a family where everyone said: “Thank you. Everything was very good.” And so it is with my husband and children. Only after that lecture did I began paying attention to it. My children, in turn, naturally acquired good manners.

Rituals and traditions are very similar to the concept of established order, but have a holiday element, a symbolic value. They are just as important in the lives of our children. Whether it’s dinner over the weekend with their grandmother, or Friday night together or the celebration of religious or other holidays. All this gives a sense of belonging to the family and to society.

We live in a very dynamic world. We are all very busy. Our children are even busier than we are. Our schedules do not always coincide. Still, let’s try to make sure that at least a couple times a week the whole family gathers around the table. It would be a precious time if everyone could share experiences and events of the day. These kinds of dinners will bring us closer together, allow us to stop and look carefully at each other, learn about the anxieties, concerns, share a good joke, the plans for the next day, and much else that makes us a family, giving our children a sense of living in a strong, stable world, where they will be happy.

Well, if not family dinners, let it be something else, but there will always be something. It will be something that our children will certainly want to pass on to the families they start.

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