How to Help Children Form Good Habits

Kathy Koch
header for How to Help Children Form Good Habits

Developing character won’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s a process. Think about yourself. It takes no thought to apply the character qualities you have been using a long time. But, when the Holy Spirit or friends and family prompt you to want to make changes, you’ll have to decide if they’re right, think about whether the change is worth the effort, and learn how to behave in this new way. It may take some work, but that’s normal. As you use the desired quality, you’ll gain ability. Then, with continued opportunities, it will begin to define you. The new mark will be evident to others.

When children have to decide whether to lie or to tell the truth, they can choose to be honest. When this works well for them, they’ll keep choosing honesty over lying. Honesty becomes a learned ability through repetition and positive consequences, including your affirmation. Honesty then becomes a natural and automatic choice. When children repeatedly make the same choice, a habit forms. Children don’t even think, Should I lie or tell the truth? Honesty is their choice and it marks them. Being able to add this trait to others they use matures them.

This is how all learning occurs. Children learn to read by reading. They learn to pass the football by passing it. Their confidence increases for music competitions as they compete. In the same way, children’s character grows and is strengthened when we expect them to use it and they do.

Start Now

How old should a child be to learn these qualities? The earlier you take character development seriously, the better. Observing young children makes it clear that they’re capable of developing healthy and unhealthy character. For example, the sixteen-month-old granddaughter of a friend of mine is already helpful, serving, and other-centered. She throws things away in the trash and wipes her high chair tray without being told. She isn’t ready for a discussion about helping others, but she likes being praised and thanked when she does so she knows it’s important.

Developing character won’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s a process.

As with anything, it’s best if children never develop bad habits. For example, if they’re allowed to grow an attitude of entitlement, gratitude won’t automatically happen. They’ll have to work to forsake entitlement for gratitude. In the same way, learning to be responsible will take longer if they are allowed to be irresponsible. Be alert to children’s choices and work so bad habits aren’t established.

What examples of this principle can you think of because you’ve seen the reality in your life or your children’s? I think of my coaching days. I coached basketball for fifth- and sixth-grade girls at the same elementary school where I taught second graders. It was mostly just for fun. Teams played against each other in our gym, but never traveled or competed against others. I was glad because this allowed me to teach skills and emphasize technique rather than competing and winning.

Some might say coaching these young girls was challenging because they didn’t know much. Actually, it was easy because they didn’t know much. I appreciated that I didn’t have to help them unlearn ways of dribbling, shooting, passing, or guarding that I didn’t think were best. I didn’t have to reteach because most girls were inexperienced. Starting from scratch worked well.

These athletes didn’t have reasons to doubt me and my ideas. They were more optimistic and didn’t constantly compare my coaching to someone else’s. Teaching from nothing is easier than teaching from a bad foundation.

For Further Reading:

Parent Differently

by Kathy Koch

Most parents misguidedly prioritize behavior. The why and how to instill character. Behavior modification does not guarantee good character...

book cover for Parent Differently