There was the irresistible urge again.
We wanted to pick up the phone and call for takeout. My fiancé had just arrived from work, and I had arrived not long ago. We didn’t have dinner prepped.
We were both tired and didn’t feel like cooking.
My arm moved, seemingly of its own accord for the phone, to dial the number, ask for the usual, and then plop down on the couch for some much-needed Netflix and chill time.
Habits are the strongest force in our daily lives.
They run the show. They decide what our family eats every evening, our bedtimes, our reactions to misbehaving children, and even our children’s behavior.
They are seemingly small pieces of the puzzle: a cup of coffee in the morning, one in the afternoon. But when put together our habits are our lives: a caffeine addiction.
If you’re in the habit of eating a salad at lunch, that’s what your life will be like.
If you’re in the habit of disciplining your children by bribing them, that’s what your life will be like.
If you’re in the habit of leaving the dirty dishes in the sink, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the sight of them every day.
Habits, and the habits we get into with our families, are the single most important factor in knowing how well an individual, a family, and even business will function.
So what does that mean for you and your family?
It’s spring, which is the time for cleaning out the yuck that is winter and embracing the happy part of the year.
It also can mean cleaning up your habits with your family.
Is your family in the habit of spending quality time?
Do you and your S.O. take time out to play with your kids every day?
How about cooking with them?
If you’re like most, you want your family to function well.
You want the kids to go to bed at the same time every night, without fuss. You want to wake up early enough to get a shower in before the kids have to go to school. You want your kids to behave in public and not run off.
These things, which can be huge stressors in a parent’s life, all boil down to the habits you create for yourself and your kids.
I’m an elementary school teaching assistant. I work with a lot of different classes, which means I get the unique opportunity of comparing and contrasting how teachers work.
In the fifth grade class at my school the children are barely controllable. Shouting over the teacher, interrupting in class, laughing, and generally ruining time they could be spending learning. The teacher is often found spouting the not so original phrase, “I need a vacation,”
The sixth grade class on the other hand, is quiet, raises their hands, speaks in turns, and generally gets A LOT more done than the fifth grade class.
So what’s the difference?
Sure the 6th graders have a got a year on their rowdy counterparts, but developmentally they’re not all that different.
The difference then…can be found in the teachers. The sixth grade teacher doesn’t allow the children to speak out of turn, she taught them to raise their hands, and speak only when they have the floor. How did she do this?
It wasn’t yelling at them, or pleading with them, or bribing them. Because the fifth grade teacher does all of those things on a daily basis.
The difference is that the sixth grade teacher has implemented habits in her students. They know that to be heard they have to raise their hands.
The fifth grade teacher, even though she doesn’t like them to speak out of turn, will often answer them even if they haven’t raised their hands. She’s created a bad habit.
Children are not inherently badly behaved, they’re only responding to the habits that we, the adults create in their lives!
So the same translates to home life.
What if bath time wasn’t a struggle? Or homework time? What if eating vegetables was like a well-oiled (and salted) machine?
What if you could set up habits that made all of this second nature?
How Habits Work:
All habits follow the same pattern – cue, habit, reward
First we get a cue.
A cue is anything that reminds you to do the habit. In the example I gave earlier the cue for me was my fiancé arriving home.
Then we do the habit.
The habit is the action we carry out. Good or bad is indifferent to the brain. It just wants to do the action.
Finally we get the reward.
For us it was the food arriving, an obviously delish reward. But in other cases it might be endorphins, or a sense of satisfaction, maybe even just getting to cross something off of a to do list.
How can I spring clean my family’s habits?
So now it’s time, this spring, to clean out the bad habits, and introduce new ones that boost your family, make them healthier, happier, and improve your life.
- Take a look at the habits your family already has in place.
What are your eating habits? Quality time habits? Daily routine habits? Cleaning habits? Work & school habits?
- Figure out which habits you’d like to replace with good ones!
This is fun, and it’s even something you can get your kids involved with. You’d be surprised perhaps about how aware they are of their own bad habits or behaviors.
- Introduce a new habit where the bad one was.
Changing your family’s habits is not about eradicating every bad habit. That just won’t happen, and you’ll be back to square one by summer.
Instead take a bad habit, say your kids leave their dirty dishes on the table after eating, and replace it with a good habit. Like, having them take their dirty dishes, rinse them off, and place them in the dishwasher.
- Follow existing cues.
Cues are the things that remind us to complete a habit. In that example, it would be finishing dinner. Once dinner is finished, the kids know that they can get up, leave the dishes, and go watch TV.
So replace the habit.
Tell the kids they can’t watch TV until their dishes are rinsed and in the dishwasher.
- Follow existing rewards, or introduce new ones!
Rewards are probably the best part of this whole thing.
For the kids in my example, its getting to plop belly down on the living room floor and flip to their favorite cartoons.
It might also be getting that rush of oxytocin (the bonding hormone) when they give mommy a big bear hug. Or perhaps a sticker on their chore chart.
Find what rewards are already in place, if that’s easier and stick with those. Or if not involve your kids in picking new rewards.
As an added bonus make sure the rewards aren’t food, toys, or technology of any kind. Like going to the park, getting bubbles in their bath that evening, or getting a star you made out of tinfoil.
- Be methodical
Habits aren’t built in one day. And bad habits are VERY easy to slip back into. So keep it up.
Writing down your progress is the easiest way of knowing how well your family is doing with their new habits, and making them stick.
- Go one at a time
Will power is easily overwhelmed, any dieter can attest to that. Things go really well when you’re just chilling at home on the weekend, but as soon as you get back to work, and waste all your will power on focusing for hours at a time, the chocolate cake will be in your stomach before you even realize what happened.
This is the moment to work together as a family, identify what everyone wishes they would do better, and start implementing your new habits!
It’s a great chance to teach your kids that they have power over what happens in the family, and a chance for everyone to live smoother and healthier lives!
Happy spring cleaning!
Simone clement, of www.simoneclement.com, is a mental health, personal development, and healthy living blogger. She is always searching for ways of improving life, while living the path of her soul. If you’d like to find out more about her, or about habits visit her website (linked above).
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