How to Develop Healthy Habits in Kids

Habits are so important to mental health because they impact how we think, act, feel and behave. Habits make our lives easier! And when those habits are disrupted, it can take a toll on us and lead to:

  • Mental fatigue
  • Frustration
  • Problems with focus

It’s been harder than ever for many people – children and adults alike – to maintain healthy habits during the pandemic. It’s certainly understandable: For months on end, there have been disruptions to our routines at work, school and home. But even within today’s uncertain climate, it’s possible to help your kids adopt healthy practices and make those behaviors a part of your family’s regular routine.

What Are Some Examples of a Habit?

Your morning routine!

  • Bathroom
  • Brush teeth
  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Let the dog out
  • Get your backpack/purse/work bag

How Can You Help Kids Form Good Habits?

Follow the 3 R’s – and remember to start easy and make small steps toward the goal!

  • Reminder (the trigger to start the action)
    • Make it visual.
    • A calendar or checklist works great. Put it on the fridge or in their room.
    • Parents will need to give reminders at the start.
  • Routine (the action you want to take)
    • Make sure kids know specifically what they are expected to do.
    • Practice together.
    • Make sure they are capable.
  • Reward (what you get for doing the action)
    • Have the new behavior be rewarding to your child.
    • Offer something special when the new routine is completed.
    • This should be small, but meaningful:
      • 2 pieces of small candy
      • Extra screen time (10 minutes or so)
      • Penny in the jar to earn something bigger at the end of the week

7 Ways To Make Healthy Habits Stick

You can make it easier for your kids to stick with new habits by adding certain behaviors to your family’s lifestyle. Try these ideas:

  1. Build cues into the day. Leave a fruit bowl on the counter so kids reach for apples when they’re hungry, instead of looking for snacks in cabinets.
  2. Inspire kids to begin. Ask them to do the smallest first step of a good habit, like putting on their sneakers. They’ll probably stay outside playing for a while.
  3. Make it harder to follow bad habits. Hide the TV remote control until homework is finished.
  4. Add healthy habits onto existing habits. Go for a walk after dinner every night, and your kids will expect to exercise together each evening.
  5. Encourage habit streaks. Have kids mark an X on a calendar or put a coin in a jar every day that they eat healthily or go to bed on time.
  6. Give rewards. When kids finish their homework early, play a game together, or let them have 10 minutes of screen time.
  7. Model good behavior. Inspire your kids by showing them that you enjoy following the same healthy habits.

Practice Example: Home Learning

Here’s an example of how you can build a new daily routine for home learning.

  • Reminders
    • Make a daily checklist of activities that need to be completed.
    • Print out or draw (get the kids involved too).
    • Post it somewhere obvious.
    • Provide verbal cues about what is next and what has been completed.
  • Routine
    • Specify what each activity means throughout the day:
      • Cell phones put away unless being used for learning activity.
      • 30 minutes on math means complete your daily worksheets.
      • Study sight words for 15 minutes.
      • Log in for virtual classroom at 10:55 a.m.
      • Take a break from 10 to 10:30 a.m. for free time.
  • Reward
    • Offer both short-term and longer-term rewards.
    • A 30-minute free time break can be part of the reward.
    • Older kids might get access to their phones periodically during the school day.

Healthy Habits Checklist


Healthy Habits Checklist thumbnail

Since the school schedule has been different for everyone, we created checklists to get you started for days with home learning and days with in-person school. You can use these as a guide to create checklists for your family to help form new healthy habits, not matter what form that takes. Fill out the form below to download our Healthy Habits Checklist.


How Can I Help My Kid Break a Bad Habit?

To break a bad habit, the process is like forming a new habit – but in reverse!

  • Remove the reminder
    • Put the tablet or TV remote in a cupboard
  • Break the routine (make it difficult to do so!)
    • Move the tablet or TV remote to a different area of the house
  • Remove the reward (don’t reward the behavior)
    • Only allow kids to watch programming you approve of so they don’t get the reward of watching their favorite show every time they sit down.

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VIDEO: The 3 R's of Forming Healthy Habits

 



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