Teaching good habits through play

Habits at a young age lay the foundation for a child’s lifestyle as they grow. Good habits when developed early contribute to a child’s well-being. When kids are young, forming good habits in children is easier as they are open-minded and learn through observation. This is an opportunity for us parents to lead them by example.

There is a difference between habit and decision-making. A habit is an automatic behavior pattern developed through repetition, while decision-making is a conscious and deliberate choice, based on options and expected results. For example, a dental hygiene routine such as brushing teeth regularly is a habit while visiting a dentist occasionally is a choice, both leading to a healthy mouth.

Whether it be following a healthy routine, practicing good manners, or developing a strong work ethic, the impact of good habits on children's growth and development can never be underestimated. It takes time to form a habit through this process. Playing, being enjoyable, can make the child look forward to the routine.

However, it is a challenge as everything is new for a child and habits take time to form. Charles Duhigg in his famous book, “Power of Habit” has given us a clue about how to instill new habits and break old ones.

It is a simple 3-step loop. First, there is a cue, which is a trigger that reminds you when to carry out the habit and which one. Then there is the routine which is the habit itself. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain remember and repeat the habit in the future.

Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE to get a REWARD.

If your child has developed some unhealthy habits, breaking them also follows roughly the same process in reverse. This means that you can remove the cue and the reward associated with the bad habit to break it.

Here are some tips to teach basic everyday habits through Play as you get them ‘School-ready’.

1. Brushing Twice a day:

Brushing twice a day
  • Among all the tasks you need to get done, Brushing is the first one to start with. Younger children often feel lazy or forget to brush their teeth in the morning as they are still sleepy and if you are a parent reading this, you very well understand the morning struggle.
  • You could turn this into a fun-filled activity by telling them a story explaining the monsters and the germs would eat up their teeth(that's the CUE) and why it's important to finish off the germs through brushing or you could simply brush your teeth alongside your kid and show them how to do it right. The REWARD would be how fast the sleep vanished and the freshness in their mouth.

2. Finishing the food on the plate:

Kids could get fussy while eating and sometimes leave it midway, but you can encourage the habit of finishing the meal. Here are some tips:

  • You could start with serving smaller portions, to be replenished if needed. They can finish it easily and the reward is the sense of accomplishment. And as they get in the habit, gradually increase the portion of food. This way the kid is happy to finish the meal, and there is no food wastage. It is a win-win situation. Also in the future, they will understand their capacity to eat and accordingly plan their food.
  • Batman Effect is a proven technique to help your parenting journey. A child is more likely to carry out a task pretending to be a superhero and you could put it into practice during mealtime.
  • Choose plates with a fun pattern that gets revealed completely as the child finishes the meal. The game here could be that the pattern is hiding and the reward will be the sense of completion.

3.Say no to waste:

Kids don't understand the concept of waste, to begin with. It might take a while but with parents' help and support they learn to avoid waste and use as much as they need. Making a game out of it could help with the process. For example, a race to switch off the lights to “rescue” electricity or a reward sticker on their palms each time they remember to turn off the water.

4. Cleaning up themselves:

Having the habit of cleaning up is always going to help, not just children but you as parents. Growing up in an organized space helps build this habit.

  • You can encourage playing or doing one activity at a time and clearing the material before switching to the next material. It is used in Montessori schools and is effective to help them learn to keep their surroundings organized.
  • To make it fun, you could race for cleaning the room to add up the level of challenge.
Tip: Use the Sand Timer Hourglass for the challenge. It always makes the      game more interesting.
  • You could reward them for cleanliness, like a cleanliness badge, when the job is done. This encourages them to follow the habit consistently. Cleaning up a mess teaches them the importance of maintaining good hygiene.
  • This might look like a small thing but in the long run, kids become independent and responsible for any “mess” they make and become capable enough to handle it themselves.

6. Say No to Litter:

If you get your child into the habit of Cleanliness, you are already one step ahead in teaching them not to litter. Explain to them how littering could add up to make the environment untidy and unappealing.

  • Start the practice yourself and you could take their help in doing the task. For example, whenever you are outdoors and you need to throw garbage, together look for a dustbin. This will make them conscious enough to do it the right way every time.
  • Always carry a spare bag as a backup, in case you don't find a dustbin nearby. This will get them prepared for any surprise events.
  • Educate them on how littering affects the lives of so many birds and animals and could become life-threatening for them. Empathy will help them in understanding the environment more distinctly.

While kids learn many things by observing the environment around them, there are specific habits that we need to teach them consciously. We can follow the three-step process of tying the habit with a cue, a clear routine followed by a consistent reward.

Setting a routine for your kids reduces the effort and will make the day a smooth sailing one. Set a time for their play, sleep, meal, screen, and study. We understand that it is a daunting task, but eventually, it makes life easier.

Teaching good habits to kids is always easier said than done but the play could always help to ease the process. The power of play is often underestimated, not only it helps you raise a happy child, but makes the process of caregiving and parenting fun in everyday life.

Good habits shape children's character, behavior, and decision-making skills, helping them to lead a productive and fulfilling life. By instilling positive habits in kids, parents and guardians can give them the tools they need to succeed and lead a happy, healthy life.

It's always a relaxing environment when the kids know their routine. So start early and take it slow and steady. Remember every child is different and they grow at their own pace. The key is to not give up and hold your ground.

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