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How to Build Good Habits in Kids from Scratch

May 26, 2022

How to Build Good Habits in Kids from Scratch

Habits are those tasks that aren’t in your to-do list, but help you function properly throughout the day. Tasks such as brushing and flossing your teeth, how you make your bed, and even the route you take to get somewhere—those are all made easy by the force of habit. 

Habits are there to make your life easier and more manageable, so that you can free up your space for things that need effort, brain power, and willpower. Visionary Steve Jobs and former United States President Barack Obama used to wear the same thing every day because they wanted to save their decision-making skills for other things that matter. If your routines and good habits are in place, you won’t need to worry about them anymore! 

Good habits last a lifetime and, as parents, you want your kids to start with them as soon as possible. Good habits such as brushing and flossing their teeth, going to bed at the right time to support their growth, choosing food that’s good for them, even excellent study habits will help them in the future. 

How do you help your kids build good habits from scratch so that they’d grow up to be independent, self-reliant, confident adults? Gentle parenting would definitely help a lot in this department!  

In this article, we will talk about:

An African-American dad spending quality time with his son, teaching him how to do laundry with the washing machine.

There's no better way to jumpstart a good habit than by doing it together with your little one!

The Anatomy of a Good Habit 

You probably know what a good habit is—eating healthy, exercising regularly, drinking enough water, getting quality sleep, brushing and flossing your teeth, and a lot more. You can differentiate what a healthy habit is from a bad one, but have you ever stopped to think about what makes a good habit, well… good? 

A good habit contributes to a better quality of life, a means of self-care, and is something you do that makes you a better person. For example, when your child brushes and flosses their teeth, it may seem like a routine that they simply need to accomplish. What many don’t realize is that dental care is an act of self-care, and it gives them a better quality of life. 


Parents: Their Child’s Guide to Healthy Habits 

Parents like you are in the best position to help your kids build great habits as early as now. Besides children having the brain capacity to hold all of this information, they don’t have any “bad habits” to unlearn. You’re starting from scratch! 

Just like what was previously mentioned, parents are in the best position to be their child’s guide and helper when it comes to forming good habits. Parents are a child’s first teachers and role models, and children learn from their caregiver’s actions more than their words. Knowing this, parents are unconsciously already teaching their kids what habits to pick up. You are the biggest influence in your child’s life right now, so strike while the iron is hot and get those habits in while you still can!


The Habit Cycle: Kids’ Edition

In the book Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he explains that, after a series of studies and research, he concluded that a habit happens in a loop: Cue, Routine, Reward. 

A Cue is something that triggers the habit, while the Routine is the act of doing the habit, and the Reward is the expected outcome that comes from doing the habit—and then it begins again. 

For gentle parenting advocates, it may make you uneasy to see that habits come with rewards. Don’t fret! This is simply just a breakdown of what makes up a habit. Let’s take for example when your child flosses their teeth with Piico Kids Floss Picks. The Cue could be seeing it by the bathroom sink, right beside their toothbrush. The Routine is when they choose which Piico Floss Pick to use for that day, and then they floss their teeth. Their Reward is clean teeth—plus more rapport with the cute animal or dino floss pick they chose! So it’s not necessarily an outright reward, but more of getting the outcome that you want out of the routine. 

A little Asian girl learning to read a storybook while her mom guides her.

Building a good habit takes teamwork from both you and your child.

Using the Habit Cycle, how do you enforce good habits in your child? 

Align the habits to your child’s development.

If your child isn’t developmentally ready to do certain habits, such as brushing and flossing their own teeth or packing their toys away, it will just be frustrating for the both of you to start a habit because they can’t handle it yet in the first place. Do your research first about what they can or cannot do at this age, and choose which one habit at a time to instill. 

Make the cue as easy as possible.

If you want your child to eat healthy, leaving a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter and keeping the sugary snacks and junk food in hard-to-reach cupboards will encourage them to reach for a piece of fruit instead. When you make the cue or trigger as easy as possible, like literally within arm’s reach, visible, needing no effort at all to start, then it will encourage them to do the habit all the time. Author of The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor explained that when he wanted to practice his guitar more, he put it in plain sight, on a guitar stand that was easily accessible to him, so that it wasn’t difficult to get it and practice. The same goes for him curbing his routine of turning on the television and mindlessly watching it; he took out the batteries of his remote to curb the routine, and it worked! When you make good habits easier to do than bad habits, then it’s the good habits that will stick. 

Be consistent.

Children actually thrive with routines because it gives them a feeling of security and safety when their environment is consistent. In short, they know that their grownups will always be there to take care of them. The same goes with routines. Consistency is key, and this will make the routine stick. If, for example, you are laying out a bedtime routine to help your child sleep better, sticking to a particular time and an order of doing things will help your child expect what’s going to happen next (and hopefully, lessen the negotiations of extra time!). Do the same things in the same order for your bedtime routine every night—dress up, wash up, brush and floss their teeth, have a bedtime story, turn on the nightlight, and then lights out. 

Practice the routine until it sticks.

If you’ve had swimming lessons or any lesson, for that matter, you know that what you don’t use, you lose. Meaning, if you don’t practice it and keep your focus, you’ll soon forget it. There will be days when going through the routine isn’t possible, like you left your child’s favorite storybook at home while on vacation. But once you’re back, you return to doing the same routine. 

If the habit isn’t sticking, figure out why.

There could be different reasons behind why a habit isn’t sticking to your little one. The first one could be that your child isn’t consistently doing it within the day or they’re forgetting to do what they need to do, and so nothing is being cemented. The second one could be that there’s no “craving” behind the habit, meaning the reward isn’t “obvious” enough for them to keep on doing it. Once you’ve figured out the reason behind the habit not sticking, you can tweak whichever part of the loop you need to  to adjust to your child’s needs and preferences. 

Be your child’s role model.

As mentioned earlier, your child does more of what they see from those around them than from what you say to them. They will highly likely pick up on your own habits. If you advocate for less screen time in your family, inspect your own. If you want your children to eat healthy, look at your own eating habits first. If you want them to take care of their body, show them what you do. They look up to you and will copy what you’re doing, so make sure they pick up your good habits! 

A little Indian boy with big curly hair flossing by himself with a Piico Kids Floss Pick.

One day, you'll walk into the bathroom and your little one will surprise you! Don't forget to show them how impressed you are.

Habits last a lifetime, but they take work, dedication, and most of all, patience. It won’t be an easy road and it will take time, but the results will be worth the effort. What matters in the end is that you are equipping your children with habits that will not only make the quality of their life richer and fuller, but that will also help them grow up to be independent, well-adjusted, and confident adults. They will go out into the world not just as happy individuals, but as someone who will not only survive but most especially thrive.

Build healthy habits with Piico Kids Floss Picks for maximum fun for everybody: