Family Traditions

Dear Dr. Linda,

Over the years you wrote about Groundhog Day which occurs every year on Feb.2. I love those traditions. I know they’re silly, but I still wait for them because it makes think about spring. This year my children are finally old enough to understand why Groundhog Day exists. Is it possible to write this year about it again, so I can share the information with them?  Thanks so much, Love Groundhog Day Mom

Dear Love Groundhog Day Mom,

As I said in the past, in spite of those who look down their noses at old traditions that are not scientifically proven, there is nothing wrong with it if—as an adult—you are capable of knowing and separating fact from fiction while preserving the fun of the fiction.

When your children are of age, they too will understand the difference, and continue family traditions based on old folklore. The practice is not only fun but has long-term benefits. It’s been shown that family traditions keep generations connected, reinforcing a sense of belonging for children. The need to belong is one of the most basic needs of human development. As a result, children who practice and then later continue family traditions appear to be emotionally healthier. When children know what to expect they feel more secure. It provides order in their lives, which, in turn, reduces stress for them and the adults around them.

Shared family traditions like looking to see if the groundhog sees his shadow involve storytelling—which is beneficial for the young and old brains. Storytelling requires digging into long-term memories and experiences, sharing cultural information and tales, and putting them into a sequence of events. This is a wonderful strategy for children to use when studying for tests. Children who are exposed to listening to stories from their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles pick up this strategy and can use them in their everyday learning.

Telling your children and grandchildren the groundhog story every year can help them on a variety of levels. As you read this story, think about all the parts of the brain children will be using.

Groundhog Day is a tradition in many cities in the United States and Canada as well.  It seems that this tradition began in Germany in the 1800s with a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition. If a groundhog saw its shadow after coming out of its den on February 2 (which meant it was a clear day), it would go back to its den, knowing there would be six more weeks of winter. If it didn’t see its shadow, which meant it was a cloudy day, spring would come early. Of course, there’s no relationship at all between a groundhog’s experience and the arrival of spring. (What if the groundhog lives in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s hot on February 2? What if a groundhog in Pennsylvania sees its shadow, but one in Florida doesn’t?)

The question is why intelligent adults who understand the difference between fact and fiction still fall back on fictional family traditions. Because, as children, the traditions gave them a sense of security. Since no one knows what will happen in the future, continuing these traditions brings back that warm feeling they felt at the time it all began. They feel safer, more confident, and more secure.

Happy Groundhog Day, 

Dr. Linda

Dr. Linda Silbert has a weekly Education Q&A column in Mahopac News and 4 other Halston Media newspapers. Submit questions using the contact form at 

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