Training Children To Form Productive Habits
June 20, 2011
My daughters finish their breakfast and run off to play in the living room. I can feel my pulse rate increasing. "Why didn't they put their bowls in the sink when they were finished eating? I think to myself, "How many times do I have to tell them to pick up after themselves?"
Then I stop and remember my own advice. I don't want them to feel ashamed because they forgot. I am still in the training stage and not the punishing stage. During the school year, we are rushed to get ready for the day. The girls eat breakfast, run to dress and brush their teeth. I pick up their plates for them because we are in a hurry. This inconsistency will prolong my training.
What does it take to get children to prompt themselves to pick up? Children may know to do something but that does not mean they will actually remember to do it on their own. Should parents criticize during these habit forming stages? Is it damaging to point out failure before the habit is formed? YES…
It is damaging and often counter-productive to children's habit forming skills. Pointing out a failure for which children have no control over gives these children a feeling of incompetence. My children know how to put their bowls in the sink but they forget. They don't know why they fail; only that they do. Knowing to do something is completely different than actually doing it. It is our job to help children develop habits by repetition in instruction. After many months of reinforcing instructions, and only after children have developed the habit, are we allowed to discipline over failure.
Developing constructive and useful habits is a tedious process that starts with us, the parents.
Here are some tips to help kids develop these habits:
- Post a note to serve as a reminder. Luckily my kids learned to read in the Pre-K years so I was able to post a note near the toilet paper that read, "Flush the Toilet". It really worked! If your children can't read then post a picture.
- Keep track of all the times children perform the wanted task by using tally marks. Post this in plain view of children as a reminder of success.
- Establish routines. Routines are a great way to incorporate new activities into an old schedule. The routine acts as the prompt, reminding the child of the proper procedures.
- Reward children for small successes. Start out rewarding frequently then gradually reward less and less often until the habit is formed and rewards are no longer necessary.
- Set mini goals for children. For example, see if you can get your child to hang-up his coat for five days in a row. Once the small goal is accomplished, add on a few days to make it a bigger goal.
- If all else fails, use the old classic of tying a string around your child’s finger to remind them they are supposed to be doing something…the trick is to get them to remember what that something is.
Oh, and for the record, this list is included in another blog post but can be applied in many situations. I reposted the list because "repetition is the mother of learning".