Good habits don’t just happen.
They have to first be introduced to us and it takes self-discipline and lots of practice to cultivate them into our regular routines, if they are to be successful. Take for instance brushing and flossing our teeth. When we were very young, our parents brushed and flossed our teeth for us, gradually teaching us how to do it correctly so we could independently handle the task ourselves. Eventually, we learned that brushing is something we should practice daily (and you get a big gold star if you actually floss!) to promote healthy teeth and gums and prevent bad breath and other dental consequences.
Helping your children form good habits can be a challenge. But if you stay the course, doing so will become a habit of your own. Once you have a goal in mind, focus on it daily until your child has demonstrated an acceptable level of mastery before moving on to the next habit. Your expectations should be contingent upon your child’s age and stage of development.
Here are 5 healthy habits I have implemented with my kids. And next week, in Part 2 of this series, I’ll tell you about 5 more.
Healthy Habit #1: Practice Gratitude, No Matter What Gratitude is a tricky concept. Most of us know that we should express gratitude for the major things in life, like having a roof over our heads, having food on the table each day, and having healthy children. Then, there are the little things, like appreciating the big tree in the backyard that our kids can climb, having a lake or ocean nearby to swim in on a hot summer’s day, even just having access to a washer and dryer. When all is right in our world, it’s easy to focus on the good, but the challenge is being able to maintain that focus when things are not going so well.
Most kids won’t learn gratitude simply by being told that this is how they should act. The most important thing you can do is to model the behavior for your child. Set up a habit of gratitude in your family. For example, I suggest creating a family gratitude journal where you and the kids can record the events that you are all appreciative of; or create a gratitude poster which showcases your child’s favorite activities and things. Frame it and hang it up in his room as a constant reminder of the good in his life. Growing up my family played “The Magic Circle” at dinnertime when we went around the dinner table and shared something good that happened to us during the day. Building gratitude takes practice, but when it is done regularly, it is a habit that will enhance your family’s happiness.
Healthy Habit #2: Schedule Regular Family Fun Time For a family to stay connected and in tune to one another, it is critical to carve out regular blocks of time to spend together. Get your family in the habit of hanging out just for the fun of it, not solely for special occasions like a birthdays or vacations. Gather your kids and block off regular time every month to be together. Make sure you fill the time with fun activities, such as family game night, Sunday picnics in the park or backyard, bowling, movies, and even surprise mystery rides. Once it’s on the calendar, it should be sacred family time and not traded off for appointments or other commitments (no matter how much your teenagers grumble).
Healthy Habit #3: Develop Family Habits Sit down together and encourage each family member to decide on a healthy habit they would like to improve. For example, younger kids can try using the words “please” and “thank you” regularly, older kids can try calling home if they are going to be late, and adults can try to exercise regularly and drink water instead of soda.
Next, give each person some flower seeds or a bulb and have them plant the seed in the ground. Give yourselves as long as the seed takes to start growing to work on these habits. When everyone sees growth in their seedlings, they can report to the family whether or not their habit has bloomed in them. During this time, family members can encourage the growth of one another’s habits bymaking positive comments that they admire their sister’s commitment to walking for ½ hour every morning before breakfast, or writing a note on the family chalkboard that it’s been awesome not having Dad smoke any longer. Even giving a simple hug to your 6-year old son that you’ve noticed him trying to take better care of his bedroom can be just enough to keep everyone motivated and on task.
Healthy Habit #4: Stay Organized An important skill that will help your children as they grow, as well as when they leave the nest entirely, is learning to stay organized. If your household isn’t organized to begin with, then you can use this as a teaching opportunity for the entire family as you work together to get all the rooms in your home clutter-free.
Make a list of some of your clutter habits. Then, once you identify your bad habits, pick one to change and one replacement habit. For example, instead of letting your mail pile up on your kitchen counter for a week (or two), follow the Domestic CEO’s easy tips to handle the mail every single day.
Or, instead of letting your child’s clean , show her how to put it away correctly so that she’ll get into the habit of respecting her things and her environment—and avoid shuffling through messy piles to find a clean pair of socks. Start small by choosing just one habit, and pick one that you feel confident about changing. Once your home starts getting (and staying) organized, you will all have more time to relax and enjoy quality family time.
Healthy Habit #5: Eat Right One of the best gifts you can give to your family members is teaching them to take good care of their bodies. This is something most of us need to work on. But by choosing healthier food options and exercising regularly ourselves, we will teach our kids that we value a healthy lifestyle. If your family never eats fruits and veggies, start a habit of introducing one new vegetable and fruit each day. Replace fried foods with baked or broiled entrees, instead. Get into the habit of walking or riding bikes several times a week instead of watching TV. If you model healthier habits, your children will have more reason to do follow them.
For more tips on how to introduce healthy lifestyle habits to your brood, check out Nutrition Diva’s episode on Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthier and my joint episode with Get-Fit Guy on How to Get Your Kids Fit.
Do you have healthy habits that you value? Have they had a positive impact on your family’s life? Let me know in Comments or post them on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you can start building some healthy new habits for your family today.
Until next time—Happy Parenting!