Helping Children Cultivate Habits

Little boys are making bed in their room. Helping Children Cultivate Habits

It’s a new year, and with it, we are inundated with reminders of becoming a “new you.” I enjoy the fresh start of it all, but for me, life’s been a personal growth journey that remains constant. That said, the resolution ads and social media posts have me thinking about my children and the “how-tos” of helping them to establish new habits and behaviors or reinforcing positive patterns.

Our daily habits create our patterns and routines. It’s our thoughts and actions that ultimately form who we are. Often our habits reflect our values and priorities…the things we want to pass on to our children. As parents, we are our children’s guides, planting the seeds and cultivating this foundation for good habits.

What Makes a Habit?

If you wish to establish new habits with your children, it’s essential to understand what makes a habit. Every habit consists of a psychological pattern called a “habit loop.” This loop is a four-part process.

  1. Cue – First, there’s a Cue; think of it as a trigger or inkling that begins to predict the Reward. We each have a unique set of cues shaped by our past. These cues signal the brain to kick off the second part of the process, the Craving mode.
  2. Craving Mode – This is the motivational force behind every habit we have, good and bad. Without craving, we have no reason to act. Each of our cravings is linked to a desire to alter our internal state in some way, which leads us to part 3 of the loop, the Response.
  3. Response – The Response is the behavior itself enacted or displayed in the form of a thought or an action.
  4. Reward –  Rewards are always the end goal of every habit and make it worth repeating. Rewards can come in the form of a burst of the feel-good chemical, dopamine or they can take on a tangible form. Your child’s brain has been detecting and mentally programming these loops ever since their hunger (cue) enacted a craving for food, and their Response, crying, resulted in a reward, you giving them a bottle or breast. 

Helping Children Cultivate Habits:


Especially for our children, cues or triggers often accompany routines. In addition to establishing habits, the predictability of a routine creates a safe and secure feeling for a child. One way to develop a new habit is to fit it into the current pattern, “Every morning when you finish your cereal, you now put the bowl in the sink.” If your house is anything like mine, this may take a few dozen reminders, but eventually, it will stick. This is an example of the 21/90 rule. This rule (backed by science) states that it takes 21 days to create a habit and 90 days to make it a lifestyle change. When working with our children to establish new practices, it’s important to remember that consistency, patience, and repetition are key.

This Then That

Another way to establish a new habit is the “this then that” parenting technique. An example of “this then that” is, “First clean your room, then you can have screen time.” This proven technique is as old as time, but for it to be successful, it’s crucial to complete the undesirable part first, the “this,” and leave the Reward for the “that.” In other words, if you’re struggling with where to begin, choose one of your kid’s daily habits or routines, and stick the new habit in front of something fun they like. Another term for this is “habit stacking,” and it is generally the fastest path to success. 


On that note, the rewards of completing the new habit shouldn’t always be tangible. Often our children’s craving is our attention and words of approval. These types of rewarding moments are also an excellent opportunity to nurture their intrinsic or internal motivators. An example of this is, in addition to saying, “I’m so proud of you,” you can include, “You must be so proud of yourself.” That way, our children begin to identify this feeling and enact this motivator for themselves.

Be a Role Model

Lastly, we must walk the talk if we want our children to establish and practice daily habits that align with our values and priorities. Our children are constantly observing our behaviors and will model theirs from ours, so we must hold ourselves to the same standards we’re expecting of them.

As Aristotle said, “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”

Danielle Venticinque is a health and wellness guru, author, actress and momprenuer. During the 2020 pandemic she founded, Thrive Betterment personal growth products. The betterments are a stylish, wearable progress report that cultivates accountability and self-management. Her jewelry line empowers women to establish up to 6 daily habits of prosperity and wellness focusing on positive mindset and goal attainment. Danielle thrives in Saint Paul, MN with her husband, 2 sons and 75lbs mutt. Follow @Thrive_Betterment on IG for more wellness tips and positive vibes.


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