Why intentionally habit train? (And a little about my plan)

If you have a been around this blog for any time at all you know that I really think habits are important.

I think it because I have seen the power of changing a few simple, but key, habits in my own life.

I think it because I have observed how habits in kids are easily picked up–both good and bad.

I think it is important because I really do believe intentional time and effort now will pay off huge dividends later. In other words, it’s worth it.

Few people would argue with the fact that there are good reasons to instill habits in children. However, taking that idea about habits being a good thing, and transferring it to an actual plan is something else. I understand, because that is where I have struggled as well.

Today I want to share less about the overall reason to habit train (although there is a lot more I could say about it), and more about why I am choosing to to pick one habit a month to intentionally work on.

I am putting habit-training in two categories: Life skills and character. Sometimes they overlap. For instance, putting your things away is in one way a life skill, but it is also the character trait of cleanliness. If there is an overlap, I will choose to focus on one life skill and one character trait that seemingly connect in the month.

Today’s post is going to be more focused on training in good habits of character, but many of the principals apply to training in life skills.

2 Reasons I’m intentionally habit-training.

1. Easier for Mom to focus

Have you ever felt that overwhelming feeling that there are so many things you need to teach your children, how are you ever going to teach them all? Yes, me too!

And, in fact, in thinking about habit training, I began wondering if teaching one habit a month was too few. I mean really, that isn’t that many!

But I realized that I would rather have several key habits really well engrained in my children, than have a multitude of habits we simply grazed over.

And having one thing to focus on helps me, well, focus! I can remember to engage in conversation, look for teaching moments, and intentionally teach one character trait each day.

It isn’t that I’ll ignore everything else. There will be plenty of teaching moments that will come up with other things, but this gives me a hook to hang my hat. This month, this is what we’re working on. Each day, I’m going to find some way to implement some teaching on that particular habit or character trait.

2. Teaches proactively rather than reactively

One of the easy mistakes we can make as parents is to constantly teach in response or in reaction to a situation. Your child does something unkind to his sibling, and you launch into a speech on kindness.

Your child treats his toys irresponsibly and you sit them down to talk to them about the important trait of of responsibility and taking care of one’s possessions.

The problem with this is that it is always negative in the child’s mind. They did something wrong, so we let them know what it is. It is also a time when they are less receptive because they know that they are in trouble.

When we teach proactively we can keep it positive and can create opportunities to teach and model how to do or act a certain way. All the way around it is a happier thing in the home!

Any time I can teach something on the front end, it not only saves me frustration later, but allows the atmosphere of the home to be positive and encouraging.

A few things I am keeping in mind

1. This is not a rule. As much as possible we keep this as natural as possible. The kids know what we’re working on, but this doesn’t involve long lectures and rules that they have to keep. Habits are not rules. We want this to happen naturally. But in order for these to become habits we have to get there intentionally. That’s not always easy, but I’m striving for that balance.

2. This does not make them a better person. Be careful of your wording. We never want to communicate to our children that they are better if they do certain things. One child may catch on to a certain habit more easily and it might be easy for him to become Pharisaical about it. So watch your wording, and keep an atmosphere of joy and grace through the process. (Making sure you never refer to this as a rule will help in this.)

3. Work on this together. One thing I have found to help immensely is to involve myself when we are working on character habits. If we’re working on kindness, or respecting others, or attentiveness, or compassion and empathy, or responsibility, or self-control I can certainly be working on it as well! It isn’t as if I’ve mastered those!

Letting them know when I had a situation that really tested my self control, and telling them that I remembered we were working on that and God helped me have self-control is a powerful example. Or maybe I failed. Telling them that I didn’t have self-control, but then I remembered what God wanted me to do, and I asked God’s forgiveness. Including myself not only encourages me in the fruits of the spirit, but gives opportunities for my children to see that Mommy fails too, and there is grace and forgiveness when that happens.

Some ideas to incorporate habit training in your day.

  • Talk about it at dinner time.
  • Memorize a verse that relates to the habit.
  • Make a printout or some other visual reminder of the habit you are currently working on.
  • Create opportunities to practice this.
  • Model, model, model. The incredible value of imitation is huge here!
  • Talk through situations that might cause them to stumble, and discuss how to overcome it.
  • Read books the connect to the intended habit.
  • Pray for God’s grace. Don’t let them think this is all on their own. They need God’s help to be kind today, to be considerate, etc.
  • Thank God when they do well (especially important if you know it was a situation that really tested them).
  • Acknowledge successes. (The bean jar can work for this)
  • Keep it positive and natural. (No rules. Have I said that much?!)

I was going to share with you my list of habits, but this post is getting way too long. What you can expect is that at the beginning of each month I will share with you a recap of our previous month and our new habit for the current month. I’ll share what worked, what didn’t,  and some ideas of how I plan to incorporate the new one.

I’m not going to lie. I feel like I am exposing myself a bit. But in an effort to make this the most helpful as possible, I will endeavor to share as much as I can about how it is working for us.

I would love if you would join us in intentionally habit and character training! I really do see so much value in it! Should you want to join us, please don’t feel like you need to work on the same habits. You know your kids, your family, and your needs. Work on what is needed for your family at the time.

But please do share your experiences in the comments. We will all benefit from it!

I’m especially thankful to Keren and Kristen whose email conversations about this topic have been so helpful and encouraging!

Do you intentionally habit train? What are your thoughts?


  1. Excellent, Johanna! I so totally agree with your approach. I especially appreciate the balance you are showing when explaining things. On this subject, your emphasis on not being Pharisaical because WE might do something that someone else doesn’t is so, so good. I’ve known excellent parents who failed in this, and the kids were impossible to be with–because they were so much “better” than all the little sinners around them. How awful! As always, you’ve hit balance squarely on the head. Thank you!

    • Thanks!:-) I’ve been around those kind of kids as well. By God’s grace, hopefully we won’t end up there. 😉

  2. “Yes!” to working on habits together! I’m letting my needs for character growth largely guide me in my selection of habits to focus on this year. There are so many ways I see my own weaknesses reflected in my children and what better boost can I give them in developing good habits than modeling those habits (and ceasing to model the opposite)?!

    I’ve thought, too, about linking a life skill and character trait each month, though haven’t formally implemented that yet. (We’ve really been working on *basics* – like staying in bed at the right times ;). That’s a great way to link a more concrete practice with an abstract character quality. Makes me think of Rubin’s Happiness Project and her specific resolutions.

    Thanks for the opportunity to bounce ideas around through e-mail. :)

    • Thank YOU! I agree, most of the time when I am trying to teach a certain fruit of the spirit I realize they are often just imitating me. :( definitely humbling.

  3. I think focusing on habits is very important. We started a similar program to what you’re describing when my kids were really little (http://aspiritedmind.com/2009/09/habits-and-character/) and we still refer to those verses and ideas. I think at the time I thought that once we worked on a habit we would move on to working on other habits. That has happened in a few cases, but our current habits list (which we review every morning during Bible) actually looks a LOT the same as that one from 2009! Funny how things like “prompt obedience” never go out of style whether you’re 3 or 7 (or 34, to tell the truth!). As the kids grew, our scripture references sometimes expanded to include multiple references, and the scripts have changed with age-specific applications, but a lot of things that were issues for my group of toddlers are still issues with my group of preK/K/early elementary kids. All that to say, don’t be discouraged if you do sort of wind up building on existing habits after you make it through the 12 you’ve selected. I know in my life God often teaches me the same habits and lessons over and over again, but in different variations in different seasons. It’s a good work to prepare our kids to be teachable on character issues since that is a big part of lifelong sanctification! I hope your habit training goes well and look forward to reading the updates!

    • You know, I wondered if you did this. :) Thanks so much for the link. Many of the habits are the same as we’ll be doing and I love seeing how others are doing it. Thanks for the reminder that we’ll probably be sticking to the same ones a lot! I do think when you choose key habits, they end up spilling over into many areas so it probably isn’t that bad of an idea
      to teach them over and over. Thanks for you input!

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