Friday, December 16, 2011

The Importance of Family Traditions

       This is Q-ball's first Christmas.  I have always loved the holidays, but it is especially exciting to imagine seeing it all for the first time through my child's eyes.  Additionally, it is my husband's and mine first Christmas in our own home, so we are excited to establish our own family traditions.  Which leads to the question- how will Q-ball view the traditions we choose to establish?  What will they mean to her in future years?
Q-ball wants to be like her big cousin!!
      Well, in truth, due to infantile amnesia- the phenomenon that prevents humans from remembering pretty much everything that take place in the first 3.5 years of life and most of what takes place until age 5 or 6- she won't remember this holiday season.  Still, many child psychologists and others who study infants and children believe that these early years are some of the most important in shaping an individual's entire life. 
       The holidays are prime time to pass along cultural and familial traditions to future generations.  Indeed, it has been found that families who participate in regular routines and rituals (to include daily activities like family dinners and bedtime routines) have stronger relationships than those who do not.  These predictable activities create a safe environment for growing babies and children which fosters social and emotional development. While an occasional tantrum is no stranger to holiday activities, children are generally excited to copy their older friends' and relatives' activities, thus learning the familial and cultural traditions that shape this time of year. In fact, some psychologists believe that humans' innate ability of imitation is a means to ensure social interaction and "the proliferation of human culture." 
    Imitation serves two roles in child development- firstly, to develop new skills, but overtime, imitation also evolves to foster social interactions. As imitation and, consequently, social interactions become more complex, humans not only copy the actions of another, they also become the model for an action, an expereince known as synchronic imitation.  In one experiment, researchers attempted to see when this level of social interaction begins to occur. Researchers demonstrated tapping the hammer on the ground and then offered an identical hammer to toddlers ranging from 12 to 24 months.  At 18 months, toddlers began to copy the researcher's actions for a set period of time and continue to make eye contact with him, thus demonstrating the beginning of synchronic imitation, and by 24 months, most toddlers seemed to have mastered this concept.  
     This finding, paired with others like it, lead many psychologists to believe that by the middle of the second year, children are able to and want to maintain social interactions with others through shared actions.  Around this age then, it can be assumed, children will be actively engaged in watching and copying holiday traditions. They will likely want to help their parents, older siblings and cousins, or friends when decorate the tree, sing carols, hang the lights, frost the cookies, and, of course, open presents.  
      So, as far as establishing traditions for our first family Christmas, it seems the research indicates that greater emphasis should be placed on "Baby's Second Christmas."

Eliot, L. (1999). What’s going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life. Bantam Books: USA.
HIll, M. (2000). Family Traditions. Family Life Month Packet 2000. Retrieved from
Nielson, M. (2006). The imitative behaviour of children and chimpanzees: A window on the transmission of cultural traditions.  Retrieved from

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