HOW TO TEACH YOUR KIDS GOOD HABITS
Teaching Our Children Good Habits From an Early Age is One of the Best Ways to Influence Them For a Lifetime. Here Are 12 Good Habits You’ll Want to Teach Your Children.
By Dr. Bryan Zitzman
Nothing beats the cuddles, hugs, and pure love you get as a parent. But parenting also comes with the responsibility of guiding children to blossom into well-rounded, responsible, healthy, and caring human beings. It all starts with teaching good habits that will carry with your children throughout their lives.
12 Good Habits to Teach Kids
- Safety Habits
- Sleep Habits
- Exercise Habits
- Eating Habits
- Hygiene Habits
- Kindness Toward Others
- Good Manners
- Study Habits
- Work Habits
- Financial Habits
Why practice good habits? Adults who understand the value of hard work, kindness, and respect for themselves and others were very likely taught good habits and provided a good moral compass when they were children. Good habits can start as young as babyhood and continue to flourish into adolescence and beyond.
The manners and behaviors you instill in your children now can play a significant role in their future relationships, health, well-being, and work ethics. Although there are several good habits to teach as soon as possible, you can start with just a few and keep building upon your lessons as your children mature.
How to Teach Kids Good Habits
As a parent or caregiver, you play a crucial role in teaching your kids how to develop good habits and behaviors. To develop good habits, children need to understand the power of habit building, why good habits are important, and how developing healthy habits can lead to a happy, rewarding life.
One of the best ways you can instill a desire to form good habits in your children is by modeling them yourself. When you have a healthy routine filled with good morning habits, daily exercise, nutritious meals, and kind thoughts, then your positive words and actions can transfer to your children. They will want to do what you’re doing and mirror your positivity.
It’s also necessary to set clear household rules and guidelines so that your children know what you expect from them. Discipline comes into play here. It’s important for you to have consequences that invite your children to change negative behaviors and replace bad habits with good ones.
Talk with your children about the good personal habits you expect them to have and why they are important. Show them simple things they can do each day to work toward good habits. Help your children understand how setting the foundation for positive behaviors and habits now can lead to them becoming well-rounded, happy, and successful adults in the future and at the same time avoid many family problems.
12 Good Habits to Teach Kids
Helping your child develop good habits starts with an understanding that certain behaviors can have a positive impact on our daily lives.
1: Good Safety Habits
Children need to learn that their safety (and the safety of others) takes priority over everything else, which is why it’s number one on our list of good habits. Without understanding safety rules that can protect the body and mind, your children may not be capable of developing respect for themselves or others. Good safety habits also help protect your child from strangers, accidents at home and school, getting lost, and other emergencies. They give children a solid foundation for knowing how to avoid or handle accidents later in life.
You can start by teaching the basics at an early age, such as wearing a helmet when riding a bike or playing sports, looking both ways as you cross the street, and avoiding behaviors such as playing with matches, running with scissors, or touching a pot of boiling water. Kids should also know their home address, phone number, parent or caregiver names, and their own name as soon as they’re capable of memorizing them and understanding how this information can help in an emergency.
As your child grows older, you can introduce more mature safety rules and responsibilities. For example, you can teach your children to respect their bodies and the bodies of others, show them basic first-aid techniques, and teach them how to safely evacuate the home in case of a fire.
2: Good Sleep Habits
Sleep is important for everyone. A good night’s sleep keeps you physically and mentally healthy, allows your brain to remain focused on the next day’s tasks, and can boost your behavior and mindset. Children, especially, can benefit from a restful night’s sleep because their bodies and brains are rapidly growing. Sleep gives them the fuel they need to recharge and feel well.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children require a certain amount of sleep each day/night, depending on their ages:
- Babies: 16 hours
- 1-2 years: 14 hours
- 3-5 years: 13 hours
- 6-12 years: 12 hours
- Teenagers: 8-10 hours
The bulk of this sleep time should come from restful, uninterrupted sleep at night. The right sleep habits can ensure that your children get their minds and bodies ready for a full night of sleep. Some good habits that help promote a healthy sleep schedule include:
- Set a regular bedtime and wake time each day.
- Create a bedtime routine, like reading a book or taking a bath before bedtime.
- Turn off all electronics for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Maintain a consistent schedule for eating and napping each day.
Sadly, the importance of this habit is being neglected in our current culture. Teens especially are at risk with an overloaded schedule of school, music practice, sports, and homework that makes it almost impossible to get to sleep at a decent time. Add to that the bad habit many teens (and adults) are getting into of falling asleep as they watch streaming videos on their devices. Then, the early morning start to school then makes for a short night, giving our children far less than the recommended amount of sleep. This pattern is leaving our children at risk for chronic sleep deprivation, which can lead to poor health, agitation, anxiety, and depression. All of this can lead to further family conflict, which feeds right back into poor sleep, agitation, anxiety, etc. It’s a vicious cycle.
3: Good Exercise Habits
Exercising is one of the best habits we can develop. Physical activity helps us lose weight, relieve stress, sleep better, improve our attitude, build strong bones and muscles, and prevent heart disease. Even for kids who show no signs of health issues, daily exercise is necessary for their current and future health.
Instill a love for exercise in your children now and watch it continue to grow as they get older! Kids usually love to get outside and play, so taking a trip to the playground or an indoor gym can be the perfect way for them to burn off some energy and stay active. The key is to make exercise fun. The more fun your child has exercising, the easier it will be to maintain the habit as an adult.
As your children get older, you might consider getting them involved in sports or other physical activities, like dancing or dog walking. Sports may be the easiest way to exercise and can offer a long-term way to keep your child interested in a healthy activity.
4: Good Eating Habits
Good eating habits go hand-in-hand with good exercise habits. Eating can become a bad habit for people who weren’t taught the importance of proper nutrition. They might turn to sweets when they’re having a rough day, crave salty foods or caffeine, drink sugary soda, or eat high-carb snacks instead of eating balanced meals. These behaviors are unhealthy for adults, but they can have extremely negative effects on growing children.
Kids need to eat a mix of fruits, vegetables, fiber, dairy, protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrates every day. Each element of a balanced meal works together to fuel your child’s body and mind. Bad foods like packaged or sugary snacks, can increase the risk of obesity, depression, and other harmful conditions.
Here are some ways to teach healthy eating habits. First, teach your child the importance of mealtime and introduce the different food groups—healthy protein (chicken or salmon, for example) fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy, and carbs like rice, pasta, and potatoes. Encourage your children to help you prepare breakfast as part of their morning routine or pick out healthy snacks for lunch to learn about a balanced diet.
Next, have meals together as a family as often as possible. Not only is this perfect bonding time, but your children will also see you eating healthy, which can encourage them to do the same. Serve water or low-fat milk with dinner to avoid extra calories and sugar and be smart about keeping portion sizes reasonable.
5: Good Hygiene Habits
Hygiene is also a crucial part of a child’s overall health and well-being. As your children grow, they will be able to handle more hygiene tasks on their own as part of their daily routine.
Washing hands and covering their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze can prevent germs from spreading to others. Not only is it practicing good hygiene, but it’s also practicing good manners!
Other good daily habits to teach kids include showering or bathing regularly, brushing their hair, brushing and flossing their teeth, wiping after using the toilet, clipping their nails, wearing clean clothes each day, and getting regular haircuts. Older children should also understand the importance of keeping their genital area clean, protecting and cleaning their skin, and taking care of their facial skin, especially if they wear makeup or are prone to acne.
Young children won’t necessarily understand why it’s necessary to stay clean, but you can explain it in ways they understand. For example, you can explain brushing and flossing teeth like this: “Your little teeth are trying to stay strong while your big teeth are growing and getting ready to come out. You need to keep your little ones spotless so they can protect the big teeth you’ll have when you’re older!”
6: Kindness Toward Others
Love and kindness make the world go around. It’s also at the heart of your family’s relationships and family dynamics. A child who is kind can spread that kindness to others—playing with friends, riding in the car with siblings, or helping a teacher at school.
Kindness is a habit that children can learn as young as infancy. The people who are around your children the most, like you, other siblings, or a babysitter, can have a lasting impact on the perception of kindness and how to treat others. Kindness is best taught through modeling, so showing kindness through gentle touches, empathy, and kind words is one of the best things you can do as a parent or caregiver.
Older children can get involved with volunteering. Donating time to others teaches children what it means to have a giving spirit. Your child’s school likely offers a few volunteering opportunities, like canned food drives or holiday nursing home visits, but you can always ask around your community for other ways for your family to help.
As your children show kindness to others, be sure to notice it and make mention of it to them. As you help it become part of their identity, it will become a habit that never dies.
7: Good Manners
Good manners are often apparent in children who understand the importance of kindness—but many kids still need to be taught why they should use manners. Words like “Please” and “Thank you” aren’t simply spoken when a child wants something. These words also express respect and gratitude.
Young children tend to use manners simply because that’s what they’re told to do, but older children will learn that their manners can express genuine gratitude. Manners also show that a child is considerate of another person’s feelings, which comes from developing empathy.
Most children can learn to use good manners by watching how adults closest to them interact with each other. Try to make an effort to hold the door open for others, ask for items politely when you are at the store or a restaurant, and say “Have a great day!” to people you encounter. Even the smallest opportunities to use manners, like saying, “May I please have a napkin?” at the dinner table will become important lessons for little ones who always look to you for guidance.
Learning how to be patient is an important habit for children to develop. It helps them become less selfish and understand that their needs or wants may not always be a priority. As kids, patience can help solve a lot of squabbles over sharing toys or playing games. As adults, patience helps us demonstrate kindness and respect towards others during stressful situations.
Patience is a skill that takes a long time to master. It takes time to teach a child how to socialize with others. Be there to guide your children as they play at the park and let them know it’s important to wait your turn when playing with others. Another way you can help your children develop patience is by reliably following through on your promises, thus helping your children learn that waiting patiently does in fact pay off.
9: Good Study Habits
By the time your children are old enough to attend school, the basic habits you’ve taught them will come in handy. Patience, kindness, and safety can carry them through the day as they make friends, obey the teacher, and follow important rules.
Schoolwork teaches children about responsibility. Building a foundation for good study skills in kindergarten can lead to success in college and at work and instill a lifelong passion for learning.
Many children struggle with a desire to do homework. This can be a challenging habit to develop. You might consider letting your child come home from school and unwind for 30 minutes with a healthy snack and some outdoor exercise. Then, sit down with your child for dedicated homework time. By establishing a routine that includes a break after school can prevent the task of homework from becoming a negative experience.
You can also make regular visits to the library or use your family computer to help your child research information. Pick up some books or search websites and videos to gauge your child’s interest. Show your children the different ways than can learn something new in a fun and interesting way.
10: Good Work Habits
Good work habits are similar to good study habits. Although the two can coincide with each other, work habits can differ slightly in that they teach children the importance of independence — that the clothes we wear, the roof over our heads, and the food on our table all come from hard work.
A child’s good work habits can give him a strong sense of ambition, a sense of responsibility, and a desire to be successful. Some important work habits to instill in your child include:
- Persistence: Teach your child that it’s important not to be hard on himself when something doesn’t work right away. Keep trying to achieve an outcome, even when it’s difficult.
- Effort: The effort your child puts into something is just as important as the outcome. Be sure to recognize your children’s efforts when they try their best even when the outcome wasn’t as you all hoped.
- Punctuality: Spark a desire to be on time for school and other activities. Your child will learn the importance of responsibility and reliability, and showing respect to others Other’s time is something you can never give back.
- Work ethic: A good work ethic is built on a set of positive values and attitudes your child has about work. Every child needs to understand that hard work, effort, and determination can lead to rewards. The satisfaction that comes from seeing the fruits of your labor is a fundamental ingredient in developing a good work ethic.
Giving your children chores is a good way to target each one of these habits. Your child will get practice following a schedule with his to-do list, learn how to spend his time wisely to complete tasks, and develop a sense of contribution toward the family and household.
11: Good Financial Habits
Establishing a work ethic in children can be challenging if they don’t have a basic understanding of how finances work. Your children are aware that money exists to buy things, but they also need to know why savings, budgets, investments, and careful spending are essential aspects of developing good financial habits.
Young children can start with a piggy bank. You might reward them with $1 for helping you with small tasks around the house, like cooking dinner or pulling weeds. Older kids might receive an allowance for keeping up with their chores without reminders.
When you pay your child, encourage her to consider needs and wants. For example, she could save half the money for a specific goal, like going to summer camp. Then, she could use the rest for candy or a toy. Another approach is to teach your children to divide the money into savings, spending, and charitable giving.
A child who knows how to self-regulate can learn to remain calm in stressful situations, alleviate strong emotions, and be more emotionally available for others. Children with self-control can also:
- Think about their actions more carefully instead of being impulsive
- Talk about their feelings more openly
- Develop stronger social skills and relationships with other children
- Focus on tasks more easily
- Become more independent in several areas of their lives
The ability to self-regulate is something that even many adults find challenging, so it’s important not to expect too much from your child. You might see baby steps for a while, but those baby steps will eventually equate to significant leaps toward positive behavior and emotions.
In toddlers and preschoolers, you’ll usually see emotions on display in the form of tantrums. When tantrums happen, give your toddler a safe place to cool down. Then, sit down and listen to her feelings. Express empathy and then talk about other ways to cope when feeling upset, like snuggling a favorite stuffed animal or giving a hug. In addition, be sure not to reinforce the tantrum by giving her what she wants in order to stop the tantrum.
You can encourage your school-aged child or teenager to feel comfortable talking about their feelings, whether that’s to you, a sibling, a close friend, or even a teacher. Older children may also find enjoyable activities that can help regulate their emotions, like riding a bike, listening to music, or playing an instrument.
Teaching Good Habits
Children continue to learn from infancy all the way through adulthood. Some of the most important lessons they will learn are the habits you instill in them at a young age. It can be hard to know just how much your teachings are sinking in. One fun and interesting tool you could use to get a sense for what habits are being formed in your home is to take the family culture assessment developed by Kinmundo.com therapists and researchers. Forming a strong foundation for your family culture while children are young is much easier than when they’ve grown and personal habits have been largely formed.
Good habits usually start early, but it’s never too late to start teaching your children how to be healthy, show kindness and respect to others, and understand the importance of hard work. These behaviors will last a lifetime. By teaching your children good habits, you are giving them the skills they need to achieve their goals, work well with others, and develop into happy, healthy adults.