Many Americans regularly engage in routines and rituals, and these practices improve their mental and physical health and sense of belonging, according to an analysis of 50 years of research.

Routine events, such as dinners together as a family, provide comfort simply by being events that people can count on, says study author Barbara Fiese, professor, human development and family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Children flourish when they can predict things in their life, such as family dinners or regular bedtimes, the study found. "Even a short period of time has a positive effect. It's related to physical health in infants and children, and academic performance in elementary [school] children," Fiese says.

Rituals, on the other hand, are symbolic practices people perform that help define who they are. The meaningful, symbolic parts of rituals seem to help emotional development and satisfaction with family relationships. When rituals are continued during times of stress, such as a death or divorce, they lessen the negative impact.

"It seems that at points of transition, such as [entering] school or [getting] married, rituals can increase one's sense of security," she says.

Irene Goldenberg, a family therapist at the University of California at Los Angeles, says that therapists routinely advise people to create rituals. "They represent an order and a sense of logic. They make the family more of a unit and tend to make it clear what the values are in the family."

To learn more about the importance of rituals to family life, visit Child Care Aware's Web site at http::// or read more from the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service at

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