Image source: Pexels.
Image source: Pexels.
The word “habit” can have a negative connotation at times. For instance, smoking or overeating is seen as a bad habit. However, most of the activities that humans partake in are comprised of habits, good or bad, in one way or another.
Many of these habits take root in childhood. For instance, brushing your teeth, doing household chores, and saying “please” and “thank you” are all examples of good habits worth having.
As a parent or guardian, one of your most important tasks is to personally oversee the formation of good habits in your children.
The Psychology Behind Habit Formation
While everyone is familiar with the concept of a habit, it takes a bit more research to truly understand how a habit is formed.
Habit formation is a process that begins to take place early on in life. For instance, one study found that most routines that children form — including their chores and other responsibilities — don’t tend to vary much after they are 9 years old. By that still-youthful age, activities generally settled into an unbroken pattern and remained consistent right through high school.
Often habits are formed through specific strategies, such as repetition, association, and positive reinforcement. Another study on habit formation in children attempted to incentivize kids to eat their fruits and veggies by providing a reward when they did so.
Interestingly, researchers found that even after the rewards had been removed, the amount of healthy eating remained 21% higher than average. In other words, a habit had been formed.
In a similar vein, parents and guardians should strive to encourage healthy habits in their children. They can do so through rewards, associating behavior with a positive context, and simply repeating a good behavior until it is adopted, helping their children develop and mature in the process.
Important Childhood Habits
It’s clear that healthy habits are formed at young ages and parents can certainly help in the process. However, it can be difficult to discover the best habits that are worth reinforcing.
With that said, here are eight of the most important habits to help children develop early in their lives.
Most people teach their children to brush their teeth at a fairly young age. However, it often takes quite a bit longer before other personal hygiene items are properly addressed. This includes:
- Regularly showering or bathing.
- Washing your face every day.
- Brushing your hair often.
- Clipping your nails rather than picking or biting them.
- Washing your hands whenever appropriate.
Teaching proper hygiene is something that parents shouldn’t just discuss with their children early on, they should demonstrate it as well. Brush your hair or clip your nails in front of your child and explain why you’re doing so. Discuss washing your hands after visiting the grocery store and then encourage your child to join you in the process.
Clean-Up and Organization
The basic ability to organize a space is important to develop at a young age. For instance, if the trash can is full, encourage your child to take it out and replace the bag. If a room is cluttered after they used it, ask them to clean it up before moving on to another activity.
If your child has a distinct lack of enthusiasm, consider making it a game. See how fast it can take them to scrape the food scraps off their dinner plate and put it in the sink. Time them as they clean their toys out in the yard. However you go about it, look for ways to make each job fun and engaging.
Homework may be the last thing your children want to do, but it’s important that they learn good study habits nevertheless. As their parent or guardian, it’s important to help them understand the importance of forming these habits.
Encourage your child to set aside time deliberately to study. Help them research study strategies and explain that doing so can actually actually cut down the time involved as they study smarter not harder.
Work and Chores
While cleaning up is crucial to learn as a general habit, it’s also important to take the time to reinforce the importance of deeper lessons such as punctuality, work ethic, and a desire to succeed at a task.
Chores are an excellent way to cultivate these good work habits. You can highlight each positive behavior by connecting it with signs of “growing up” and overall maturity. This positive association will stoke the desire to be punctilious and hard-working in the future.
According to the CDC, 42.4% of U.S. citizens are obese. This is partly due to the fact that healthy eating is extremely challenging for modern consumers to consistently maintain. Fortunately, it’s a crisis that can be curbed by teaching healthy eating habits at a young age.
Healthy eating doesn’t just consist of portion control. It also includes making wise food choices. For instance, if your child has been diagnosed with gluten intolerance, it’s important to teach them how to adopt gluten free eating habits.
In addition, it’s essential that you teach children to avoid crash diets and fads, such as cutting out all carbs. In moderation, carbs are an important part of a diet, especially when you’re growing. However, you can steer them away from junk food as a source of carbs and instead highlight something such as homemade pancakes or cornbread as a delicious-yet-healthy alternative.
In an era when kids can spend 5 to 7 hours per day in front of a screen, it’s important to buck the sedentary lifestyle by teaching your child how to form exercising habits. They don’t need to go out and run a marathon or start hitting up the gym before sun up. However, it’s wise to start encouraging a regular exercise regimen and to have them set reasonable fitness goals.
For example, they can aim to learn how to ride a bike or run a 5K by the end of the summer. When they accomplish this habit-forming goal, you can reward them with praise in order to reinforce their association with exercise as a positive challenge with desirable results.
Sleep may be natural, but a good sleep routine often isn’t. That’s why it falls to you, the parents and guardians, to teach your children how to have healthy sleep patterns. You can do this by:
- Establishing a no-blue light rule before bedtime.
- Setting reasonable bedtime hours.
- Taking time to research proper sleep quantities for each age with your child in order to empower them to take control of their own sleep schedule.
- Create an optimized sleeping space with your child to help them invest in the formation of a good sleep habit.
If your child is aware of the importance of sleep and feels that they are in control of their sleep schedule, it can help to establish healthy resting routines over time.
Finally, in the high-paced, non-stop 21st-century world, it’s wise to communicate the importance of mental health habits. Help your child develop habits of communicating mental health concerns.
Encourage them to take healthy breaks (without using them as excuses to avoid work). Help them develop healthy coping habits that they can lean on through stressful, anxious, or depressed times of life.
If you can teach your child to have healthy mental habits — and all of the habits on this list, for that matter — you’ll equip them with the best tools possible to take on the world when they reach adulthood.