How to Teach Good Habits?

Updated on May 29, 2018
G.A. asks from Little Rock, AR
15 answers

Hello there!

I’m a young parent and was wondering if anyone had any tips and tricks on how to teach young children to be more organized, to be responsible and have good habits (brush teeth, time to go to bed, take care of a pet, etc.)?

Also, would you recommend the use of an electronic device to achieve this? For example, by managing points or recompensing the children by playing games on an iPad.

Thank for your input!

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answers from Washington DC on

i myself would not rely on electronic devices to teach my kids good habits.

many young parents (and i was one of 'em) want this sort of thing to be a 'lesson' that you teach, like the ABCs, that kids work at for a while and then just get.

unfortunately kids don't seem wired that way. lifelong habits like responsibility are taught over a long spectrum of years. and sadly for us, the best way for them to become truly ingrained within their psyches is for the behavior to be modeled, not 'taught.'

in the meantime, expect to have to give reminders. rewards have a place, but don't make them the sole motivator. what you want, ultimately, is a young adult who brushes his teeth because he wants good dental health, not one who does so because he'll get a star on his chart and a new toy.


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answers from Honolulu on

My suggestion is to completely remove the concept of being a well-mannered, polite, responsible person from any electronics, point systems, or rewards that are either electronic or on devices or games.

The rewards for good behavior should not be time spent on a device. The rewards should be that since you can behave, we can go to the playground or the restaurant, and you can have things like a favorite outfit, a pet, a new book from the library. You can visit your cousins or your friends. You can have a friend over. You can have some independence (like being able to ride your bike to your friend's house when you're old enough) because you're trustworthy and reliable.

Games and electronics and devices are great for helping with finger dexterity, eye-hand coordination, or for passing the time when you're sitting in the airport and you still have 2 hours before your flight boards.

But caring for a pet with kindness, being able to speak politely, and knowing how to take care of oneself (teeth, showers, getting enough sleep, clean clothes, etc) and one's possessions (toys, a bike, school books, etc) are skills that don't depend on electronics.

At first, it's helpful to have pictures (a picture of a child brushing his teeth correctly, for example, or a picture of a clock showing the time that the bus comes) when a child is a very new reader. Then checklists (on paper or a whiteboard, not on electronic devices) can reinforce the standards.

And it's essential that the parent actually teaches the skill. Don't just put the hamper in the bathroom and expect it to get filled with dirty clothes. Work alongside the child and show how to check pockets, how not to throw dirty wet towels in with the regular shirts that need laundering, etc). Use words. Demonstrate. And make absolutely certain that you follow your own rules. If your closet floor is covered in shoes and clothing, you can't expect your child to put his shoes and clothing away. Work together. Put on a fun song and dance while you're bringing clean towels to the bathrooms.

A couple of weeks ago my sister-in-law and I went to Ikea. We took a break in the cafeteria. Nearby were 3 young mothers sitting at a table, enjoying coffee and talking quietly among themselves. But what really caught our attention was the little children's table next to them. It was child-sizes, with 4 tiny chairs, and in each chair sat a very young child. We figured their ages ranged from 2 to 4. Each child sat quietly, used a fork, used a napkin, and although the youngest did pick up a couple of green beans with his fingers after finding it too difficult to spear them on a fork, their manners were amazing. The mothers consistently looked at the children and smiled and spoke encouraging words, like "we like the way you're sitting quietly" or "good job" or "thank you for eating so neatly" etc. The moms could have literally ignored the kids but instead they reinforced their children's behavior with the occasional compliment and smiles. Everyone nearby just stared at this wondrous event. Imagine that. Little children sitting in public, eating a lunch, laughing with each other, with no books, no phones, no iPads. The mothers did not have those types of devices out either.

I think that's pretty much the secret right there. Appropriate praise (note, none of those mothers promised a trip to the circus or a toy or a movie - they simply appreciated their child's behavior and rewarded the behavior with smiles and attention), recognizing the value of good behavior in and of itself, and using words to describe and talk about the behaviors that are important to your family and your particular situation. And logical consequences are essential. If your child leaves his bicycle out, he doesn't get to ride it. If he is poorly behaved at the McDonald's playground, he is immediately removed and taken home to sit quietly without any entertainment. If he hits a child at the playground, no more playground time that day.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

First, model good habits yourself. That's what kids learn most from.
Second, all kids are different, so you will find that no matter what you do, some kids will really respond to it and for some it will be like pulling teeth. All three of my kids responded very differently to different tactics.

But mostly, my eyebrows went up in dismay when I read about your suggestion of using an electronic device to achieve these goals. In my opinion, most kids are inundated with and addicted to electronic devices, and can barely occupy themselves with anything else these days. I personally would not promote more tech in your child's life, especially when you are trying to get him/her to do other things, like go to bed or care for a pet.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I think you teach these things by modeling the behavior you desire your children to have.

Children do/act like you do/act.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

How young are you and how young are your kid(s)?

How did your parents teach these things to you?

The best thing is to put down the electronics and spend time with your kids.
Some kids hate their parents phones because the parents spend too much time ignoring their kids and too much time surfing Facebook.

Parenting is often very 'hands on' right on up through elementary school and then you gradually hand the reins over through middle and high school.
You certainly don't want any device replacing you in your parenting chores/duties - otherwise what did you have kids for?

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think the best thing is to establish a routine. It's especially important at bedtime to help them start to calm down. So, for example, dinner, quiet play, bath, potty, brush teeth, read 1-2 short books, tuck in, maybe a quiet lullaby after you dim the lights, then a good night/sleep tight sort of sign-off. Do the same thing every night - you change up the books and maybe the song, but not the order of things. For toothbrushing, use an egg timer (the hourglass type with sand, not kitchen timer) or sing the ABC song (once) or Happy Birthday (twice) to measure the proper duration.

Handwashing - make up a little song so they rub the soap and don't just put it on their hands and rinse it right off. You can find lots of songs for basic functions on line or sometimes in DVDs from the children's library. Ask the children's librarian for suggestions and don't be afraid to order from other libraries in the network (pick up and drop off at your branch - very convenient).

Read books on these things, which show kids in the story doing the stuff you want your kids to learn - how fun it is to help set the table or sweep the floor, manners, that sort of thing.

I say no no NO to electronics! It's too passive, and it just becomes an impossible habit to break. You will regret tying your children to devices, for many reasons. Mostly, if you teach them that this is how you learn, they will demand their own devices from a very young age! You really want to teach them (and model for them) the value and rich traditions in books and libraries. "Managing points"? Do you mean a virtual sticker chart? Why not do a real sticker chart? You can find very inexpensive options at teacher supply sites.

Also, institute a combination lost & found bucket and "job jar" - depending on the age of the kids. Lost stuff (or stuff left in the middle of the kitchen floor) gets tossed into a big bucket (look for a wicker basket if you care about looks, or a sturdy plastic laundry basket or galvanized tub from the container store. No organizing or separate tubs for different kids. All misplaced stuff goes in there - backpacks, single shoes, lunch boxes, Hot Wheels cars, and so on. Yes, it's a pain to dig through and find their missing stuff - and that's the point. It would have saved them time to put it away to begin with. As they get older, you can put a bunch of job "sticks" there - use oversized craft sticks like big popsicle sticks and either write words or put a photo or magazine pic on it (great for pre-reading kids). Or use construction paper/poster board and then laminate it. You can find some cute poems on line which basically say, "Lost something? Do a job and earn it back." So if they want their toy back, they can put out water for the dog or clean the litter box or empty the trash first. Upgrade the difficulty as they get older. Be sure these are age-appropriate tasks and start small. No sending a 3 year old out to walk the dog or having them clean the litter box, right?

Laundry: get a small laundry basket for each child, color coded. Even the smallest child can match socks (make it a game!) and fold stuff that doesn't matter if it's wrinkled (pajamas, underwear), and place them in the basket belonging to the appropriate person. They fold/sort for everyone (not just their own stuff) and put in the basket - they learn that everyone works together. Then they take their own baskets to their own rooms and put their own stuff away. If you can find a way to store/stack their things at kid height, great. Look into simple and inexpensive closet storage for kids - bins for socks, hooks for belts and hats, etc. Easier than dresser drawers.

Consider a towel rack on the back of each bedroom door - a place for wet bath towels other than the bed or the floor. Put a small hamper or a duplicate of their small laundry basket in the closet for dirty clothes - that keeps off the floor.

Don't be afraid to have a child go without something because they didn't take care of it. That special shirt they wanted to wear to school? Oh well, it was on the floor under the bed. "How unfortunate for you, Susie, that you didn't put it in the hamper where it belongs." They take lunch in a paper bag because they didn't clean the spilled food out of the lunch box? "How unfortunate for you, Billy." They can't go to the park because Mom and Dad had to clear the table and feed the dog? "How unfortunate for you guys. Now there's no time."

A good way to discourage waste is to start good recycling habits and buying habits early on. Things like no straws and no juice boxes, but instead using reusable stainless steel water bottles. Specifically saying, "No straw, please" when ordering in a restaurant. Making your own single-serving snacks in reusable containers instead of buying little snack bags that get tossed. Use reusable grocery bags and put the kids in charge of flattening them and putting them back in the car before the next trip. Play a game to see who remembers to take them in when you go to Target or other stores, not just the grocery store. Kids can take out the recycling too and help at the bottle/can return if you buy soda or beer that needs to go to the machine - it takes time, but let the kids keep the money they get from the 5-cent returns. Getting them to take care of the planet makes them less selfish and gets them thinking of others.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Mostly it's just modeling these habits yourself and being consistent in what you expect of them.
Charts and rewards (whether electronically or old fashioned pen and paper) only go so far because kids gets bored with that and may decide they don't care about the rewards, and therefore won't be motivated to do what you want.
Also make sure you're expecting age appropriate behavior. Young children need lots of guidance and reminders, usually over several years. Parenting for self sufficiency and independence is a LONG TERM job, not something you teach and then expect them to "get" once, it's been taught.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

You teach by being a role model. ***YOU*** do the habit and behaviors you expect to see from your children.

DO NOT reward them with electronics for doing and behaving as they are expected to. that's just wrong. They should get a "good job" or a "thank you for behaving" and then mosey on.

A routine is key to some behaviors. However, the most important is that they WATCH YOU. They are little recorders and will mimic you and your behavior and words.

Tyler and I don't swear much, but when we do? It's kind of a big thing. One day, I was really upset about something and used the "EFF" word. A couple of days later, my oldest, now 18, stubbed his toe and it hurt really bad so HE repeated the word. He was about 4 years old. I told him we don't use those words. His reply was "but you did mommy". I had to shut up. It was true, I had.

They learn by watching.

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answers from Portland on

We had routines when little and made it fun. The kids took on more responsibility over time, and felt proud of their accomplishments. We kind of made a big deal of being able to handle stuff (with praise) not going over board, but our kids liked being able to do 'big kid' stuff. That was generally enough. We didn't have to give them electronics time as a reward.

Taking care of pet - one had a fish, and they get to share that at show and tell at school for example. That's kind of enough - a proud moment. They have to 'help' out mom or dad until old enough to handle on their own.

For more organized, I agree with being the role model. We have organization systems in our house and the kids were taught to follow them. I don't expect them to come up with their own. The toy clean up system was similar to a daycare. You can have one spot where you can leave some stuff out, but the rest goes in tubs and has to be picked up before another comes out. I guess they are 'rules' more than anything. Consistent rules that everyone (including guests) follow.

The 'reward' is - you get to play with the toys again. I don't really reward just following house rules.

Rewards in our house are treats - which are now and then. Just for fun. Similarly, I didn't take away toys as punishment.

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answers from Philadelphia on

This could take years of gentle reminders. Have patience. My daughter wasn’t neat until she went away to college. Now she is quite the perfectionist, apparently I rubbed off on her afterall but there were years I was afraid she would be a hoarder. No lie.😉

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answers from Washington DC on


Welcome to mampedia.

In order to teach good habits, YOU MUST BE ABLE TO MODEL THOSE HABITS...if they see you doing what you DO NOT want them to do? You have just shown them hypocrisy.
(do as I say, not as I do).

Establish a routine.
Establish consequences for broken rules.
Establish boundaries and respect THEIR boundaries as well.

Personally I didn't reward them with electronics. I let their work be their reward. When they could see THEIR job well done? It made a difference!

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answers from Miami on

Oh please don't use an electronic device to teach your child this. There are SO many things to do with an iPad without using it for this...

Children need to internalize good habits. They don't do that by using an iPad.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

Kids hear what you say, but they do what you do. The best way to teach them is to do it together.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

First and foremost, be a good role model. If you have a consistent and organized schedule (eg, bedtime routine is wash face, brush teeth, put on jammies, read book, then go to sleep - in that order and starting at the same time without fail every single night), then your kids will learn that from you. Your kids will learn more by watching you than by anything you say.

I don't recommend for or against using electronic devices. Every kid has his/her own currency. If a kid loves electronic devices, then using that as a reward might work for that kid, but if a kid doesn't really care about electronic devices (and yes, those kids exist), then this isn't going to make one bit of difference. This is assuming a kid is old enough for this to even be appropriate. Obviously this doesn't apply at all to a toddler - for a toddler and most older kids as well, recognizing and rewarding good behavior with praise, hugs, and kisses goes a really long way.

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answers from San Diego on

Train kids to take personal responsibility for themselves.

I love using you tube for visual aids.
For brushing teeth I showed my kids you tube videos of tooth decay and what happened if don’t brush teeth..the visual scare them into it.
We sing “Brush away, tooth decay”

If toys not being put away, I would collect them in a trash bag for the orphans. Kids learn really quick to clean up. Limited number of toys I had to deal with.

Don’t compensate. Give encouragement and a job well done.

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