Creating traditions, not just rules

The evolution of “Syrup Days”

Naming what kids can do is one of my default strategies, especially when I find myself in a negative place with my kids. See my post here if you missed it.

The other day at the park, Keener was throwing mulch and instead of naming all of the things he couldn’t throw it on (me, my sister, his sister, other kids, etc.), I dusted off the ole’ strategy of naming what he could do with mulch. While it doesn’t always correct the misbehavior, in this instance it did. Keener you can dig with mulch and you can fill up containers with it. Why don’t you fill up this car with mulch? Done.

A speaker I heard recently reminded me about a similar idea, but phrased a different way: have traditions, not just rules. Of course, rules need to exist and should exist. However, traditions name for kids what they can do and are positive. Other key benefits of traditions:

  • Predictable. Kids know they can expect them and there is such comfort in knowing that in their crazy lives, there are certain areas that remain the same
  • Family Focused. It could be as simple as “Mexican dinner Monday” or Technology free Tuesday – where everyone in the house participates.
  • Enjoyable. Who doesn’t love Friday night pizza? Parents don’t have to think about cooking and the kids know they will get one of their favorite meals at the end of the week. Everyone wins!
  • Lasting Legacy. Traditions are carried down in the family and don’t have to just be about the holidays! This is a great time to think about which traditions you want to continue from your own upbringing as well as introduce some new ones.

In our house, a tradition is “Syrup Days.” Keener loves pancakes. No, I don’t make him pancakes every day (you can buy them frozen and cook them in a toaster oven in 90 seconds!) But I try to limit the amount of sugar he eats, especially before 8:00 AM. Therefore, Syrup Days were born. Syrup Days are the weekends, Saturday and Sunday (and holidays). The weekdays are Butter Days. Therefore, we turned what could have been a daily battle or a “rule” of no syrup on the weekdays into a fun tradition of syrup on the weekends. He knows, and loves this tradition and never asks for syrup during the week. He will only ask, “Is today a syrup day or a butter day?” and then understands from there what this means for his pancakes.

What traditions do you have in your house? What rules could you change into traditions to focus on the positive? Especially when you feel yourself saying “no, can’t or don’t” over and over, consider ways in which you can form a new tradition for your family.


  1. When my kids were preschoolers and babies, I came up with “Monday Adventures”. This went on until my oldest was in full day school (back then that wasn’t until 1st grade) — sometimes it was something minor, like trying out a new hiking trail near our house, others were more ambitious, like Mount Vernon — most were in between: Flying kites, going to the National Arboretum, going to a monument and then for ice cream, etc. It was fun to explore all around where we live
    and adding the word “Adventure” made it really SEEM like an adventure — and everyone expected something to happen on Mondays. These Mondays are some of my best memories.

    PS I love Keener’s sweater!

  2. I LOVE this approach. It not only solidifies family bonds/ties but it also develops an acceptance of delayed gratification which is absolutely essential to navigating frustration and impatience. Knowing “Syrup Day” is in the near future is comforting and reassuring although not immediate.

    • Great point! I hadn’t thought about it like that but it’s giving a clear “not now” while also answering “but when?” Thanks for pointing that out!

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