Setting good habits at an early age can help children grow into more responsible adults. Your kids will have an easier time keeping on top of their responsibilities and taking care of themselves when they’ve set habits that have become second-nature to them. The problem most parents face, however, is getting it to that stage from a chore to a habit. Here are a few great tricks for instilling good habits into your kids.
Establish a Consistent Schedule
Your kids will be able to follow their routines easier if a consistent schedule has been set. If they do homework directly after school every day, then they’ll easily remember on their own to do get their homework done before they play. If dishes are done together the minute everyone is done eating, then the repetition will carry them into starting on the dishes the moment they finish without even thinking about it. When something is done 21 times consistently, it becomes a habit. To ensure that they don’t break their streak, have them do similar activities or chores to what they normally need done. If there’s no homework that day, then have them read a book. If you ate out for dinner that evening, have them help wipe down the kitchen counters and take out the trash when you get home. You can even set habits to create other habits. For example, if they brush their teeth at 8pm every night, then they won’t eat any snacks after that and likely be willing to go to bed sooner. Setting a consistent schedule can also help your children develop better self-discipline. As long as you stand firm and make sure that they do the chore and do it well those first 21 times, the habit will set in and they’ll start getting it done on their own and remembering their own schedules. Because it can be hard to get them to do that chore in the beginning, though, it may be easiest to try setting a new habit every month instead of trying to do it all at once.
Offer Rewards and Incentives
If you’re having trouble motivating your kids to practice good habits, offering rewards and incentives can get them on track. Rewarding good behavior regularly should only be done in the early stages of setting good habits so that it doesn’t become integrated into the habit itself. Make a competition with your kids, for example, say whoever makes their bed every day for a week in a row gets a brownie at the end of the week, then build up for the first three weeks to a picnic or a toy from the dollar store. Then, when the game is over, the habit will already have been set. You can still offer an occasional reward, maybe a dollar for every week that they keep up all of their chores and homework, to help them feel that extra bit of pride in their accomplishments. Even something as small as a sticker can go a long way in motivating a child. It’s important, though, that you avoid punishments where possible. Obviously, not every child will take the motivation, but if used too often, then punishments like grounding or losing privileges can lose their power, and children will often dig their heels and resist even more when they feel coerced into performing a chore. Focus more on the celebration of accomplishments rather than punishments for failures, and they’ll be a lot more likely to willingly engage in their responsibilities.
A simple reminder may be all that’s needed for your kids to stay on top of their responsibilities. Wearing a wristband may be helpful, and there even ways to customize your wristband to feature specific messages that make it easier to remember certain tasks. This is especially helpful for if your chosen habit isn’t tied to a time of day, such as a habit of being nice to siblings or being honest. Little wristbands, necklaces, or even a string on the finger can represent a promise your child can make to do better in a certain area, and serve as a reminder even when you aren’t there to encourage them. Alarms and notifications set on computers and cell phones can be good as well, especially if each chore has a specific sound. Setting up a designated sound or trigger that always initiates an activity can eventually lead to your child starting the activity whenever they hear the sound once it becomes habit. Make sure the sound is a pleasant one, though, unless your child is old enough to choose their own alarm tones. Otherwise, they may associate the activity with negative feelings and be more resistant to start.
Participate in the Routine
Not only is it important to lead by example, being involved in your kids’ routines turns a chore into a social activity that they may come to look forward to. You might choose to assist your kids with their homework by sitting by them and working on your own projects, or brushing your teeth alongside them. Children are much more accepting of rules if they see adults following them as well, and it can be much easier to focus on a task with someone working alongside you on the same thing. If you want your kids to develop habits for better fitness, going on jogs or bike rides with them is a great way to both show your support for their goals, as well as put in some family bonding time. After the habit has been developed, it isn’t strictly necessary to continue sharing in the activity if it becomes burdensome to do so, though it’s always handy to join in again when you have the time to continue to reinforce their positive attitude regarding the habit.
It isn’t always easy to instill good habits in children, especially when they have so many other factors influencing their decisions beyond your control. Keeping things on a regular schedule and encouraging them as they go along, however, helps to not only create good habits, but create good attitudes about the habits. This greatly increases the likelihood that they will carry on with what they’ve learned into their teen and even adult years.