The definition of a habit is “an acquired behavior or pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”1 Children learn to form habits from very early ages; studies have found that most habits take root in children before age 9.2 Unfortunately, habits are hard to break once established. So we must start teaching our kids good habits from the very start.
Important Habits to Teach 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.
3. Healthy Food Choices
As much as we would love to give our kids delicious, healthy, whole food every day, 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 them 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.
When kids are little, messes are made, and mom usually cleans them up. But as they grow, teaching them how to put away their toys and clean up their room regularly is important. 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. The threat of a toy going to mommy jail is enough to get my kids cleaning up after themselves (mom win!).
5. 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 at a young age the value of earning money (like 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 example, 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 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.
Kids are inherently selfish by nature and believe that the world revolves around them (which is true when they’re really little). Teaching them how to feel and express thankfulness for their blessings is important as they grow. This means they must understand that things aren’t just given to them because they want them and recognize that gifts aren’t their right but a privilege. Teaching them young to say please and thank you, teaching them to be grateful for gifts they receive by helping them write “thank you” notes, and showing gratitude for something as simple as the dinner you just cooked them will go a long way when they become adults.
7. Importance of Rest
This is a hard one to continue teaching as kids drop their naps. However, I firmly believe that quiet time, even after nap time, has become a thing of the past. My kids are now at the point where they won’t nap, but I insist they have “quiet time” or “rest time” in their rooms daily. This 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!
8. 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 learning in our children. If you think about it, no matter how old we get, we never stop learning. A child constantly processes new information, whether learning from a book, an experience, or a conversation. 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!