How to Help Your Child Build Healthy Habits

February 16, 2024
HABITS BEGIN AS ROUTINES.

As parents, part of our job is to help our children develop healthy habits. Often easier said than done – but definitely easier done sooner than later. So how do we do this?

We teach our very young children, for example, the importance of brushing our teeth – every night before bed and every morning after breakfast. It’s the repetition, night after night, morning after morning, that turns this teeth-brushing routine into a habit. By the time most kids hit middle school brushing their teeth has become second nature. It takes time and repetition to hone skills.

A 2021 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that people need an average of 59 day to successfully for a new habit in nutrition. Other studies point to durations ranging from 18 to 254 days.

So it takes time and focus for us as individuals to develop a habit even when we decide to do it for ourselves, let alone our children who haven’t asked for the help that we know is to nurture something that’s “for their own good.” Like homework. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Set a regular schedule for study time that works for both you and your child, knowing that at least initially your help might be needed. Begin with a short time and ramp up accordingly. Routines are powerful because they let kids know what to expect.
  2. Create a designated study space that is quiet and free from distractions. Invite suggestions from your child in terms of comfort and preference. For example, does soft background music help or hinder? Will a timer help your child dedicate a concrete amount of time to homework or manage transitions from one assignment to the next?
  3. Encourage organization by using a planner or calendar, taking notes, and keeping their study materials in order.
  4. Help them see homework is a pursuit, not a chore. Relate assignments to real life. If your child is studying nutrition on the body, ask for tips to plan dinner, and give credit where credit is due. If your child hates algebra, find real-life applications your child will be interested in, such as strategizing chess or calculating the trajectory of a basketball. And when homework becomes part of the routine, it seems less like an extra chore.
  5. Use a when-then routine. Things run more smoothly when homework becomes a part of the daily schedule. Structuring the routine into a “when-then” formal allows work to be finished before distractions come back into the picture and your child pursues other activities. “When you’ve finished you work, then you can play.” This is also a way to reinforce the notion that not everything is about immediate gratification. It feels good to do well in school. Homework helps. You need to put in the time. You’ll be glad you did in the end.
INVEST NOW, REAP THE BENEFITS LATER.

Remember that time well spent on helping your child turn routine into habit at a young age is time in the bank for you later as they become more self-directed OUT OF HABIT. Although roadblocks await – your child’s social life explodes, family pets get sick, colds impinge – routines enforced early pave a smoother road for successful habits.

 

And, remember, there are so many ways that you as a family can embrace learning and model its inherent excitement to your children. Take field trips and explore the world. Visit museums and learn together. Explore behind-the-scenes of industries you’re interested in … the manufacturing of anything, how mass agriculture works versus small farming, hospitals and the practice of medicine, the US Post Office and Amazon deliveries, laboratories, observatories, how machines are assembled and fixed. The list is limited only by your imagination.

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