Wholeness Healing Today

I Love You . . . More

As the sun fades and darkness sets in, my children prepare for bed. Each night before bed, my son and I share a ‘secret kiss.’ He has changed the pattern of this a few times before finally deciding on how many kisses and who says what. Now we have the same routine each night when bedtime arrives. My other son patiently waits to be tucked in while he nestles under his blankets. He too expects this ritual each night as he prepares to fall asleep. I recall a similar expectation of my mom before I agreed to resign to my bed each
night as a young child. I would simply announce, “I’m going to bed” and then wait for the anticipated response, “I’ll be right there to tuck you in.” My mom would tuck the covers around me, wait for my approval that I was tucked in just right and then kiss me goodnight.

Some of these exchanges require few words and some none at all but they communicate much more than one may imagine. Each of these contain messages about relationships.  While there is great importance in bedtime and other routines, these interactions are examples of rituals. Rituals communicate more about connection and attunement with others. They are similar in the fact that they promote predictability and are greatly important for emotional regulation.

According to Dr. Becky Bailey in her book. “I Love You Rituals,” these rituals have four goals. They optimize a child’s brain for success, they increase learning potential and effectiveness through touch, they hold families together even during the roughest times, and they strengthen the bond between adults and children which lays the foundation for mental and emotional health. When seeking to strengthen, repair, or enhance relationships and attachments, these types of rituals are essential. Games of ‘patty cake’ or ‘peek-a-boo’ are often played with a baby. These interactions facilitate eye contact, touch, and an optimal level of arousal. Bailey describes these interactions as the ‘dance of  responsiveness.’ These types of interactions involve turn taking and sharing that are important to the development of social and communication skills. It also teaches the social aspects of languages and promotes a child’s focus and attention. Bailey’s book offers a variety of “I Love You Rituals” to promote emotional connections.

Consider your closest relationships such as your parents, significant other, your children, your grandparents, teacher or close friends. Recall special ways of communicating with one another through these ‘love moments.’ My grandfather never let me leave without emptying his coin purse. My grandmother remembered the homemade ice cream or cookies I loved and would make it whenever I visited. My elderly neighbor got out a deck of cards and crawled down on the floor to play each time I arrived. These rituals help me even now during difficult times as they continue to serve as a reminder of secure relationships and love.

Maybe it’s an exchange of a special greeting when you walk into school or maybe it’s an affectionate goodbye at the end of a phone conversation, but rituals can assist us as we transition. It might be a transition from one place to another, from a student to a child, or into the new role as a sibling but these rituals have a way of marking the changes. For loss and death, rituals can facilitate security and connection that can be vital for healing. Yet rituals can also be about celebration. Holidays and birthdays often carry very important rituals and can symbolize our values and connections to others. Finally, rituals promote believing such as nursery rhymes and stories, which are merely beliefs told from one generation to the next.

So whether it’s a fist bump with your dad each time your favorite team scores or an “I love you to the moon and back,” these rituals communicate connection and commitment to one another. I always tell my kids that I have to sample their sweet treats or yummy food just to be sure it’s safe for them to eat. After many years of this, they have become so accustomed to the ritual that sometimes they remind me that my bite is waiting for me. They seek our connection even more than they seek filling their belly with the most deliciously sugary snack. I’m hoping that this ritual remains with us for years to come and can provide a gentle comfort for them as they transition in each stage of their lives. It communicates my affection for them, particularly when nurturing them with food. It’s one of us calling out, “I love you” and begging for that predictable response, “I love you more!”

Works Cited:
Bailey, B. A. (2000). I love you rituals. New York: HarperCollins. I Love You … More

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Jody Johnson, LICSW, LIMHP, began working at Wholeness Healing Center as a therapist in 2007. Jody graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with her Masters in Social Work.  She received her bachelor degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.


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