The definition of a habit is “an acquired behavior or pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” Children learn to form habits from very early ages; in fact, studies have found that most habits take root in children before age 9. Unfortunately, habits are hard things to break once they’re established. So we must start teaching our kids good habits from the very start.
Here are some of the most important habits you can begin teaching your kids from a very young age:
Washing hands, brushing teeth, sneezing into your elbow . . . these are all healthy hygiene habits we can start teaching our kids early. Keeping yourself clean is a habit that will go a long way, especially as your kid becomes a teenager and starts to smell funny and grow hair in weird places.
If they’re already wired to groom themselves appropriately, perhaps they won’t look (and smell) like neanderthals in a few years (here’s hoping!).
These days our kids are far more sedentary than kids have been in prior generations, with television, computers, video games, and smartphones taking center stage in our kid’s lives.
It’s never been more important that our kids get plenty of physical activity in their days. Whether it’s a nightly walk around the block or an afternoon spent at the playground, getting daily exercise is a habit they need to start now.
Healthy Food Choices.
As much as we would love to give our kids delicious, healthy, whole food every day of their lives, there will come a time when we won’t be around to help them make healthy food choices.
Teaching them what healthy foods are and why choosing those foods is important will help them make those same good choices later in life. In my house, we call it “grow food” because healthy food makes your body grow big and strong.
My kids still struggle with this, so I have started a “mommy jail.” This means any toys left where they don’t belong will go to mommy jail, and my child has to earn that toy back. Just the threat of a toy going to mommy jail is enough to get my kids cleaning up after themselves (mom win!).
Spend, Save, Give.
Financial responsibility is a life lesson that, unfortunately, is not taught to our kids in school. It is up to us as their parents to show them how to handle money well. You can start teaching them young the value of earning money (maybe doing chores for an allowance) and follow up that lesson by teaching them the importance of allocating that money into categories (creating a budget).
For instance, you can set your child up with three mason jars: one for spending, one for saving, and one for giving. Then show them how to split their allowance up in those jars and watch how the money grows. You can show them other valuable lessons like saving for a special purchase, spending wisely, and giving to a charity or as a tithe in church.
Kids are inherently selfish by nature and believe that the world revolves around them (which is actually true when they’re really little). As they grow, it’s important to teach them how to feel and express thankfulness for their blessings. This means they have to understand that things aren’t just given to them because they want it and recognize that gifts aren’t their right but a privilege.
Teaching them young to say please and thank you, helping them to write “thank you” notes for gifts, and showing gratitude for something as simple as the dinner you just cooked them will go a long way as they become adults.
Importance of Rest.
This is a hard one to continue to teach as kids start to drop their naps, but I am a firm believer in rest time even after nap time has become a thing of the past. Both of my kids are now at the point where they won’t nap, but I insist that they have “quiet time” or “rest time” in their rooms every day.
This not only gives them time to learn to play happily on their own while I get stuff done. It also teaches them that rest is just as important as working hard. This is a lesson I think we, as adults, should probably re-learn too!
Importance of Family.
In my house, there is nothing more important than family. I want my children to understand that they are more important than my job, hobbies, and other things taking up space in my life.
I want them to feel how important they are to me. Also, I want to teach them that putting their family first in their lives is also important, even if it’s hard (because, let’s face it, loving our family can sometimes be challenging!).
This one is hugely important and worth the time and effort it may take to help these habits sink in. From teaching kids how to look both ways before crossing the street to not talking to (or going with) strangers, keeping safe and making safe choices can be one of the most important habits you can instill in your child.
I think it’s important to encourage the habit of learning in our children. If you think about it, no matter how old we get, we never stop learning. Whether it’s learning from a book or learning from an experience or a conversation, a child is constantly processing new information.
Teaching our children to recognize what they’ve learned daily and appreciate the opportunities to learn in new situations is a skill that will serve them well as they get older and start becoming more independent in action and thought.
Teaching our kids good and healthy habits while they’re young is one of the greatest gifts we, as their parents, can give them. Presenting habits can take a lot of time and effort on our part. Once the habit has taken root, it will be hard to break. But, the end reward for our efforts will be so worth it . . . for us and our kiddos!