How to Habit-train Children

Yesterday, I gave you some reasons to instill habits in your children. Today, I will share just a few tips that have worked for me.

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1. Know yourself.

The habits that are easy for me to instill in my children are the ones that I myself do well. The ones I grew up with and that come naturally seem to spill over on my kids. Both you and your spouse have good and bad habits that children naturally pick up on. Knowing my own tendencies, and my own weaknesses is an essential step in training my children. There are many times when I need to habit-train myself right along with my children.

2. Work on only one habit at a time.

Whether it is you or your child, working on only one thing is important. It will help you as a parent remember what it is you are working on, and your child will not become overwhelmed with too many added responsibilities.

3. Join them.

When starting a new habit with a young child, there is no need to make an announcement about it. Simply start doing it with them. If you are teaching them to wash their hands before dinner, just walk to the bathroom with them and do it. Every night. If you are teaching them to put their toys away before bed, do it together. Every night. If you are teaching them to make their bed, go in and make it together. Every morning. This is not something to make a battle ground of obedience. A child loves working with his mom or dad, and they will not see it as a chore.

The goal is for you to eventually pull away as a parent and let them perform on their own. At that point, you simply remind them, but do not actually do it with them. If they need help, offer it. Otherwise, stand back and observe their new-found independence.

If you have older children, it would probably be best to tell them you are working on the habit. Decide together that for the next month what you are going to work on, with the eventual goal that they do not have to be told. A month for a child is usually long enough to make it a habit. Many times it will take less time than that.

4. Maintain.

Getting a habit into maintenance mode is a big success! You will still have to occasionally remind them, but overall they are performing the task largely without your intervention. This is when things really do get easier for the parent!

The important thing, however, is that you do actually maintain. Children will fall back into their old habits. We are all prone to laziness, so there will be times when you have to step in and go back to square one. These times should, in theory, be much shorter. They will be primarily to get them back on track rather than to teach them something new.

5. Give verbal affirmation.

When a child is starting to do things on their own without being asked is when positive reinforcement is vitally important. Notice when your child does something without being asked. A simple, “good job for remembering!” is enough to make a child want to repeat that action again. We all like to be complimented, so when a child is starting to do things on his own, don’t forget the occasional “good job!” Thanking a child for helpful acts around the house is part of being a courteous person. If it is a true habit, you will not need to congratulate them every single time. But when it is just becoming a habit, affirmation is a helpful tool.

Don’t over-complicate the process. Being intentional and consistent is the key to instilling good habits in your children. As your observe new habits becoming a part of your child, it will motivate you to keep working on it. And be grateful for all the [good] habits that you are passing along to your children without even trying.

What are your tips for habit-training children? I would love to hear them!


  1. Lots of praise and recognition. Keeping it positive and not seemingly a chore. Like you said, don’t ‘over-complicate’ it.

  2. I like how you say not to make it a battleground for obedience. I notice such a difference in my daughter when *I* have an attitude of “this is just what we do around here” instead of making it a huge deal.


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