We've collaborated with experts to help you instill good habits in kids because good habits lead to great accomplishment!
Let's face it; it's not easy to instill good habits in kids. If it was, none of those memes about mamas starting their day in Cinderella voices and ending them in Batman Voices would be half as funny, would they?
But does it have to be so.darned.hard to instill good habits in kids? Most of us attachment parents believe it doesn't have to be, but even still...at the end of many days, we're weary too.
Why do we want to instill good habits in kids? Why should good habits in kids even matter? And why is our effort an important part of helping our children become who they are?
A Few Things About Good Habits In Kids
It's important to remember that what you find a good habit may be very different than what another finds a good habit. This goes for your kids, too, so defining what 'good habits' are for your children and your home is key. Some people swear by making their bed first thing every morning; others don't focus on that as much (for different reasons) but wouldn't dream of not getting all of their stuff for the day ready the night before. Really, a habit by definition is a settled practice or tendency, and is particularly hard to give up. If you are looking to create habits, be sure they're ones that you want to cultivate and are okay with not giving up at a later time. One of the first things parents think about is the use of pacifiers and the habit of doing so many littles have. Some parents shy away from them because they're concerned about the breaking of the habit.
Rightly so, as it can be brutal sometimes, and a perfect example of why you want to be careful of habits you are instilling in your children. And a good reason to really look at your purposes and intentions for each habit you are helping them create.
Good Habits In Kids: Parents Are The Best Teachers
It's not rocket science; we are our kids' first (and best) teachers. From the first breath they take, we're with them, caring for and guiding them. We show them all the habits--the good, the bad and the downright ugly. And, since kids are the best mimics and mirrors, we're able to look at them sometimes and see where we should or could course adjust. We're the first teachers of good social skills and manners, as well as healthy choices and activity levels. We're also their first role models for habitually using our emotions and our words appropriately, and these life skills will stay with them forever.
It's important to remember, though, that acquiring good habits takes time. Especially in children, whose little brains are not just working on habit-building, but learning in general, we need to be patient. Instilling good habits in kids takes routine repetition-lots of it. Daily, hourly...by the minute, sometimes-when we're working on instilling good habits in our children we need to look at the long-term goal. That's hard to do in the day-to-day routine of life. You may find yourself begging, "How many times do I have to tell you to unpack your backpack every day?" of your child more often than you like, but the honest answer is, "Until it's a habit."
That looks different in each child-each adult-and takes your patience. You can do it, Mama. We promise!
Related: Ask the Expert: How A Few Small Organizing Tips Can Make A Big Difference
A Few Tips For Instilling Good Habits In Kids
We were lucky enough to talk with Adam and Stephanie Ashley, and their pretty awesome sons, Peyton (12) and Everett (8). Adam is the founder of Goodtimer, the world's first habit-forming family toy. Yes, instilling good habits in kids can be FUN and even a game, and Adam and Stephanie know this first-hand because their family was the first for doing so. The Goodtimer is a simple tool that works on developing good habits in kids with the premise of positive parenting: we want to encourage good habit-building with positive consequences.
Adam and Stephanie told us that when we work on instilling good habits in kids with positive consequences and reinforcements, we're not only building great adult-life skills, but we're working on extinguishing challenging behaviors too. The Goodtimer is a fun family game that can be used to manage everything from habits you want to instill to behaviors you want to encourage. Using positive parenting and positive reinforcement, families who use the Goodtimer teach their children that life is all about choices and typically choosing wise choices (over poor ones) results in better good for us, and those around us. It helps promote patterns of good behavior, and makes instilling good habits an easy game that kids want to play!
Adam says that one of the first things you want to do when thinking about instilling good habits in kids, and particularly when in conjunction with the use of the Goodtimer, is to think about what your family rules are, and to think of habits you want to instill. Each family and child will have different rules and expectations, and that's why using something like the Goodtimer can help. Imagine a 21st Century Behavior/Chore/Expectation Chart, but one that dispenses preprogrammed rewards (tokens) when your children choose wisely. When a child makes good choices, they turn their Goodtimer on by flipping it right-side-up. It's that simple! Goodtimer begins to glow green, a positive sound plays through the speaker, and the device begins tracking 'Good Time'.
Goodtimer displays the child's performance by illuminating twelve glowing segments, similar to the hands of a clock. As the child continues to make good choices and earn more Good Time, more segments are filled with green light, demonstrating the child's progress in a way that's simple enough for a three-year-old to understand. When all glowing segments are illuminated, the child earns a Good Time token and may collect it from Goodtimer's integrated token dispenser. These tokens can be saved and exchanged for additional incentives decided by the family. Similar to an allowance, tokens must be earned for consistent behavior over time and are not meant to be used as rewards for discrete good choices.
This is an important distinction because research shows that "bribes" and the misuse of rewards often results in entitled kids with "What's in it for me?" attitudes.
What we love about the Goodtimer is that it encourages wise choices and allows children to exercise their autonomy and independence in doing so. For creating routine, the Goodtimer is a great tool, because it's a simple concept of getting rewarded for making good choices for specific time slots. If your child isn't making wise choices, you simply turn the Goodtimer over and the token-timer isn't on. We recommend that parents instruct the child to turn their own Goodtimer over when the make a good choice or bad choice. We've found that it's important for the child to take responsibility for their actions and flipping over the timer teaches them that there are both positive and negative consequences for their choices. The Goodtimer reflects their performance, but they can always get back to earning Good Time. There's always another chance to succeed.
When the timer is turned off, this is a great opportunity for the parents to teach or remind their child of other choices they can make that are consistent with their family's house rules. Once the child makes amends for their behavior, they may turn their Goodtimer back on again. The motivation to get back on Good Time is a critical element that makes Goodtimer so effective. Unlike timeouts, kids are motivated to listen, learn and engage because they want to get back to "winning" the Goodtimer game of making good choices! The tokens can be redeemed for whatever your family values are based on; when your child earns a certain set number of tokens, they can be traded in for what you and your child have already predetermined would be appropriate rewards. The token system also teaches kids basic economy. They can save their tokens for 'bigger' rewards, or cash in as they need to for gratification and motivation.
Good Habits In Kids Worth Contemplating
Manners and respect for others still go a long way in this world, and are definite good habits worth instilling in kids. Helping your children establish basic manners from the very beginning begins with your use of manners, though, so you'll want to evaluate before you decide what 'good manners' look like to you. I grew up with a mama and daddy who insisted on "Yes, Ma'am," and "No, Sir," and I still am pretty stringent on that with my own child. That said, things like that could be very regionally dictated, so consider what level of manners you want your children to know and use.
It's never too early to start with basic manners, though. Simple "Please" and "Thank You" statements are pretty universal, and can begin before they even start talking. You can use sign language for those, and honestly, they are super helpful when your toddler starts sharing more of her needs because she has languaged to do so. Other phrases like, "You're welcome," or "May I please have," can make a big difference in how your little one is able to effectively communicate, and if you repeatedly use those phrases, your children will too. And, the better their manners in public, the more they'll be noticed and positively reinforced.
Physical habits affect life-long health and happiness. It's true. Odds are, if your child sees you on your phone/computer/device more often than she sees you on a bike, in the garden or walking the family dog, what habits do you think they'll take up? Today, children spend a lot more time indoors, and even at school, they're on screens way more than many of us would like. The opportunity for physical activities are fewer, so we need to be intentional in setting routines in our families that become lifelong good habits for our children.
When children are more physically active, they are at lower risk for developing disease, and staying fit and healthy. Encourage children to create good physical habits and you'll see they typically prefer more physical activities anyway. And, when you engage with them, they're more prone to take your good habits on as theirs. Whether it's a daily walk after dinner (with or without the family pet), a regularly scheduled outdoor outing each weekend, or even giving their all to an organized sports activity they participate in, you're helping them build habits that will keep them healthy and happy.
Creating good nutrition habits goes hand-in-hand with good physical habits. And mamas, we can't stress this enough; the time to establish healthy diet habits in your children is FROM THE START! Particularly when it comes to consuming sugar. We spoke to Dr. Nicole M. Avena, who is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and also a Visiting Professor of Health Psychology at Princeton University.
In her book, Why Diets Fail: Because You're Addicted To Sugar, Dr. Avena warns of the dangers of sugar, especially in little brains that are developing neuropatterning so quickly. She tells us that eating sugar causes brain changes that can lead to habits, yes, but not good ones. Eating sugar can lead us to crave more sugar and dealing with the withdrawal symptoms of sugar when it's no longer available. Sugar changes the way dopamine and opioid systems function in the reward systems in our brains. Dr. Avena says when we give our kids products with high doses of sugars (like flavored yogurts, candy bars, sodas, etc.), our kids' brains give off more dopamine than they would when they eat something like a vegetable or protein-dense food. In fact, the dopamine given off is more like what she says they typically see when people are given alcohol or nicotine. And, of course, our children love that dopamine. Who doesn't?
This means, though, that we can inadvertently be leading our children to be in the 'habit' of sugar addiction, and this is simply dangerous for them, and to their health.
To combat this, hold tight from the start. We know it's hard to battle this ridiculously overdyed, overprocessed, oversugared world our kids live in, but when we develop good habits in kids from the start of their eating journey, it's easier. When they ask for a snack, stay away from sugary snacks. Stay away from sugary drinks (even juices, as there really is no need for them and water is nature's best hydration), and when you're doing desserts after dinner? Make them healthy portions of fruits. Imagine the difference in your child's whole lifespan if they just got in the habit of eating some strawberries and blueberries after dinner each night to quench that 'sweet tooth,' instead of some traditional sugary dessert. You can teach them about healthy portion sizes and healthy choices all as you're helping them instill good life-long habits.
And While We're Talking About Good Choices: Cleaning
Another topic we hear about all the time in our mama forums is how to get our kids to be neater. How to get them to pick up after themselves, how to get them in the habit of putting things away...you know the drill because you may likely have the same issues in your house. Again, experts say the best way for you to instill those good habits in kids is to model them yourself. If you want them to make the bed each day, make yours and make making theirs part of your morning routine with them. If you want them to unpack their backpack at the end of each school day, show them how. Repeatedly. Yes, you may think, "They should know this by now!" and yes, they maybe *should* but the reality is that they may not, and it may take a LOT of repetition before it becomes routine. Remember, they're children. How many adults do you know who could use the same routine building?
What we love about instilling good habits in kids is that there are more clean cleaning options than ever (see what we did there?). When there are safe and non-toxic options out there for our kids to learn how to clean up with us and after themselves, we feel a lot better about them doing so. This was what one mom, Marilee Nelson believes too. Marilee began a clean living journey when she avoided a kidney transplant simply through making better food choices and using 'food' as 'medicine. She saw the horrible effects that chemicals can have on her bodies when her son Douglas began dealing with issues because of high levels of pesticide exposure. He was chemically sensitive to the point he could hardly function and Marilee began life as Mom on a MISSION to help him. She studied chemical exposures and environmental health, and is a Dietary and Environmental Consultant and Materials Specialist. Together with her niece Allison Evans, and Allison's college friend Kelly Love, she continues to consult and ensure that Branch Basics cleaning products are safe for you and your children. Their passion is to make changes in lives, and they chose to focus on cleaning products because the world needs truly safe cleaners that work.
We also love their #TossTheToxins initiative. With this, they give you several ways to toss the toxins in your home, and you can do so in their starter box. They encourage you to look for things that don't have ingredient lists, have warnings or cautions about using them, include 'FRAGRANCE' as an ingredient, can't prove they're unscented or free & clear of anything without the ingredient list to verify that, anything that has synthetic preservatives, is ethoxylated, or is a disinfectant or sanitizer.
Yes, even when it's the time of year for cold and flu? Those disinfectants and sanitizers can be a health problem in themselves, and Branch Basics offers better cleaning options for you and your kids. They'll actually WANT to help you clean up!
Related: School Principal Helps Foster Self-Dignity With School Laundromat
Good Habits In Kids: Self-Care Starts Young
It almost makes us laugh as we type it-self-care for kids? When you're the mom? It's like ALL care is for the kids, amirite?
But think about how you were brought up. Did you see your mother/parents practicing self-care? Did you see them making sure they ate well? Took time to exercise or sleep well? Does 'sleep well' make you laugh out loud?
We get it.
And that's why when we're thinking about how to instill good habits in our kids, we can talk to them about good self-care. Self-care isn't just long bubble baths and pedicures. It's taking care of our bodies and our minds, fueling them with good food and good rest.
It can be hard to encourage good sleeping routines for children especially if you co-sleep or want to give your kids some autonomous choices when it comes to their sleeping. We understand, and we advocate for gentle parenting when doing so. But, we also know how the brain works, and the reality is, the brain works better when rested. That's why we never want YOU to feel guilty about napping, nor should you feel guilty about doing what you need to do to make sure your little one (and you) get some good, restorative rest.
We found a really neat little invention that was designed to be a night light and sound machine for kids. The Hatch Rest also helps kiddos develop healthy bedtimes helps them establish boundaries that are good for both the parent and child when sleeping. It's part smart night-light, part soothing sound machine and as your kiddos grow, it has a Time-To-Rise setting that your kiddos can use to have some autonomy and independence in their sleeping routines. When baby is itty bitty, it's perfect to offer soothing sleep sounds and a light for diaper changes and nursing sessions. For toddlers who may be foraging in their big-girl beds for the first time, it's a comforting night-light. And, for mamas and daddies who don't necessarily love getting up at 0'dark-thirty, Rest has programmable lighting that will let your child know it's time to get up. Heck, lots of parents let Rest be a game for their kiddos, using it as a way for their kids to feel like they're in charge when Rest tells them it's bedtime. A true win-win for both!
Founders Ann Crady Weiss and Dave Weiss met each other when they worked together at BabyCenter. Their commitment to solve real-life family problems and instill good family habits led them to look into helping sleep, rest and independence act together. And when children routinely depend on habits they help make and abide by, they're more likely to keep them as adults.
Good Habits In Kids Make Good Habits In Adults
And, though it's way faster than we'd like, our kiddos DO grow. For those of us with tweens and teens, instilling good habits in kids means working with them on good hygiene. The problem for a lot of our tweens and teens is that they are lured by the junk they see on commercials and their favorite Youtubers. All too often, though, the products they're recommending are full of chemicals, parabens, sulfates, fragrances and a ton of other things that may be good for a Youtuber's/influencer's wallet, but not for our kids.
Which is why we love TBH Kids. TBH Kids is a fun, all-natural, tween-focused personal care line. It helps tweens and teens establish good habits for hygiene, but without any parabens, sulfates, phthalates or harsh chemicals. So many of those ingredients riddle tween/teen hygiene care but are actually endocrine disruptors and damage puberty hormones of our kids. TBH Kids is a fun line that doesn't just help them establish good hygiene; they know that puberty is tough, and they're a clean and safe place your tween/teen can feel like a big kid in a great community.
The bottom line about instilling good habits in kids is that we all want to do it because we know it's best for them. That desire to instill those good habits comes from genuine love and concern we have for our children. We want them to be good humans that lead healthy and happy lives.
And when we work hard on instilling good habits in kids-with purposed intent and focus and repetition, as well as the help of some parenting products designed to make kids' lives easier, we're bound to see success!
Photo: Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock
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