We want our kids to develop healthy habits, but if we’re honest, we probably aren’t the best when it comes to sticking with positive behaviors ourselves.
So what’s a parent to do?
Thankfully, there is a lot of research that can help when we fall short. One of the latest popular books on the topic, The Power of Habit, written by New York Times reporter and author Charles Duhigg, suggests all habits, good and bad, follow the same pattern, or what he calls the habit loop. It works like this:
First, there’s a cue, which is anything that triggers the habit, from time of day to location to other people. The cue signals the brain to go into automatic mode, thus making the action that follows extremely hard to resist.
Next comes the routine, which is the actual habit or the behavior you wish to change.
Finally, the reward is the reason why habits exist at all — this positive reinforcement tells the brain that this behavior is something worth remembering.
Now that we know how habits are formed, we can outline a plan to help our kids (and ourselves, too!) develop positive habits:
Create a routine
Create a routine around the positive habit you want your kids to adopt and repeat. When we were sleep training our daughter, Arden, last year, my husband, Kevin, and I read in Moms On Call that children crave the boundaries a schedule and routine provide. In the book, it encourages parents to adopt the same bedtime routine every night, which would reinforce the desire to sleep. And wouldn’t you know it, after just a few days of the same routine, our daughter started sleeping more and more.
The same goes for creating habits. If you establish a positive pattern (or cue), the brain goes into automatic mode.
Model the behaviors you want your kids to have. One of Arden’s favorite things to do is brush her teeth. You know why? Because she’s so used to seeing us brush our teeth. When we demonstrate the good habits we want our kids to have through our actions, they can’t help but to adopt them as their own.
What gets rewarded gets repeated. It’s why Arden claps whenever she puts her toys away without us having to ask—she knows that behavior gives her the positive reinforcement she craves.
Of course, this will be a struggle at the beginning because habits are tricky that way. However, there’s something else Charles suggests you can do in the meantime: Fake it til you make it.
Yep. You heard correctly.
If you do the action first, ultimately your attitude will follow. It’s what psychologists call “self-fulfilling prophecy.” When you believe something long enough, it will come true in your life and in the lives of your kids.
What kinds of things came true in your life simply when you believed they could? What habits have you helped your kids adopt? Comment below!