Habits are like tomatoes — growing good ones takes a lot of work. You have to plant, grown, prune, feed and then you can finally harvest the reward. Whether your child’s habits are good or bad depends on you. Here is a plan from the 1940s for how to give your kids good habits.
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- How to Give Kids Good Habits
- 1. Start With a Limited Goal
- 2. Look Ahead and Anticipate Difficulties
- 3. Take The Positive Approach
- 4. Make Good Habits Satisfying
- 5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
- 6. Teenagers May Backslide
- What Kind Of Habits?
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How to Give Kids Good Habits
Growing good habits takes wisdom and work, but it is what makes a parent’s life rich and fulfilling.
1. Start With a Limited Goal
Your child cannot focus on a dozen things at once. Even adults have trouble multitasking, and we have fully developed brains! Instead, you need to pick one or two specific behaviors or habits at a time. Don’t go too broad. Go deep.
If you try to cover the whole behavior at once, you’ll fail, and you’ll fail your child. He will start feeling like he can’t succeed no matter how hard he tries. And at that point, he is likely to either give up entirely or go in the opposite direction.
Always allow your child to revel in achieving a goal before going on to the next. And celebrate little wins along the way. Don’t make the celebrations so big that he feels like he can just be done, but do acknowledge each milestone, as well as celebrate the big wins. Noticing each step along the path without making a big deal about it helps to prevent the process of growing good habits from becoming a slog.
2. Look Ahead and Anticipate Difficulties
This is a difficult one, but — as much as possible keep ahead of the game. Forsee situations and guide your child’s reactions to prevent bad habits from forming in the first place.
When I was young, we raised chickens. When young chicks are graduated from the brooder to the coop, a good hen-wife will spend several evenings herding the young chickens to the roosts in the coop, rather than allowing them to stay outside and sleep in branches. Thus, they never form the habit of sleeping in the wrong place.
The same principle applies to children. If you allow a bad habit to take hold, there is already a strike against the good habit. The more obstacles there are in front of your child, the more discouraged he will feel before he even begins.
3. Take The Positive Approach
If there is already a bad habit in the way, then you can use positive reinforcement to replace the bad habit with a good one.
For example, if you find yourself saying over and over, “Don’t come into the house with those muddy feet,” then:
- First, get a floor mat for wiping feet (prepare for success)
- Call your children and have them practice “the new way” a few times.
- Use a cheerful voice and say, “Wipe your feet,” EVERY TIME that they come inside for a few days (don’t use “NO” words)
- When they forget in the future, repeat the practice and reminders each time.
This method requires patience, time, and effort, but retraining saves MORE effort, time, and unpleasantness.
4. Make Good Habits Satisfying
Remember, repetition alone cannot turn the trick. Repetition needs satisfaction before it becomes a habit.
In order to form a habit, there needs to be some sort of positive reinforcement or reward each time the habit is practiced–at least the first few times. At the very least, give a hearty, “Well done,” rather than criticizing like, “See, you can do it when you WANT to.”
A reward is not a bribe. It is recognition, rather than cajoling. (And by the way, it works for housewives, too!)
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
Take it for granted that habits are hard to make and hard to break, and use humor to get over the bumps.
Even we as adults are likely to have some difficulties with forming a new habit when we already have an old one. Children’s self-starters and auto-brakes are still weak and developing. “I forgot,” and, “I didn’t think,” are the stock alibis of our children. But they are also true and wholly justifiable.
Use humor and give grace. Try “NO PARKING” signs wherever your children are inclined to drop things. Make a funny sign to remind them to tidy the bathroom after they use it. Find ways to remind them without nagging by using humor. And hang on to your sense of humor even when mistakes are made.
6. Teenagers May Backslide
When your child becomes a teenager, many of the good habits you thought you had permanently instilled in your child’s character may disappear.
Adolescence is a time of immense brain development. All sorts of pruning and new growth are happening. And in addition, teens are also busy stretching their wings, evaluating family attitudes and ways of living, and questioning. ALWAYS questioning.
Your child may or may not settle back into a familiar groove. New ways of thinking and doing are all around them right now. And they are naturally pulling away from their family ways in anticipation of growing up and making their own families. So they DO want to be like others in their crowd. This is the time when they most need peers and interaction with others outside of the family sphere.
It helps if you, as a parent, do not become panic-stricken or clinging. It is far better to devote your energies to ensuring that they have friends whose pattern is a desirable one. (Obviously, this is easier said than done!)
The teen years bring unfamiliar situations and new problems to our children. During these years, it is doubly necessary that we help them to form good life patterns without undue interference and instruction.
What Kind Of Habits?
There are four areas that you will mainly want to focus on when teaching your children good habits: household, mental, physical, and moral habits.
Basic Household Habits
Carrying your own dishes to the kitchen counter, putting away your own clothes, shoes, toys, etc., brushing your teeth after eating, feeding a pet, and making a bed are all common tasks. Homeschooling children should also manage their books, schoolwork, art supplies, and other items after they use them
I use vintage books and chore lists to compile lists of basic household habits, which I begin teaching as young as 12 months.
The 2 foundational mental habits for children are attention and obedience.
Other important mental habits are imagining, remembering, practicing perfect execution, truthfulness, and a good attitude.
Habits like reverence, respect for others, and propriety might also be found here.
Basic physical habits include things like self-control and restraint, alertness, fortitude, decency, service, courage, caution, and purity.
These ones are always going to be highly cultural. Religious habits, habits of citizenship, and character are all going to fall in this area. Whether you follow Judeo-Christian and Western Civilization moral habits, or some others, there are certain habits of being part of YOUR society that need to be inculcated into your children as well.
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Better Homes and Gardens, February 1949