How to Get Your Children to Sleep, Eat Better, Do Homework Faster & More
Let’s talk about habit formation.
Did you know: A study by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, found that it took a person anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit. The average was 66 days.
Asking a child to build a new routine isn’t easy, because habit formation is difficult for most of us.
Try to remember the last time you tried a new diet or exercise regime. Was it easy or difficult? Did you succeed or fail? Our goals are often not our habits. Changing those routines can be difficult for many of us, regardless of age. Imagine how much harder it is for children who have yet to develop the rationale needed to think about the future or exert self control.
When reasons aren’t enough
When was the last time you went to the dentist? Usually it doesn’t involve much work besides making a simple phone call and setting a time. Many wait until they feel pain or discomfort. A person may understand why they need to go and sincerely want to avoid the consequences, but may still have trouble prioritizing making the appointment. Intrinsic reasons, even if the task is simple, aren’t always enough.
What if you received an email from your dentist that read…
Incentives can get you over the friction of starting a new habit
An ad like this may motivate you to book an appointment. That’s because incentives help provide a non-thinking simple reason to do something.
Without an incentive, the question can be a complicated combination of concerns such as: understanding how dental neglect may impact your future; which consequences you care about; your chance of getting them; the risk you’re willing to take. The ad above is simply asking you if you like money. The thought process may end with, “I probably should go, the dentist is usually expensive, there are limited slots remaining and I could save hundreds of dollars by going now. I better call.”
Education can keep you going
Rewards can only go so far. Once a person becomes used to receiving a reward, appreciation can eventually turn into entitlement or boredom. A person needs to believe in the intrinsic reasons for why they’re doing something to continue to do it long-term.
Let’s pretend your dentist tells you something like this…
“The National Institutes of Health report that over 30,000 Americans suffer from oral cancer each year. Fortunately, early diagnosis of dental diseases such as oral cancer can help save your life. As part of our preventative care program, we screen for this every time you visit. Oral cancer is known to spread quickly, but if you come every six months, you won’t have to worry about it.”
(Btw, I just looked this up for this article…and I think I need to make a phone call.)
Education may be a reason you justify setting a task as important enough to prioritize. Having called once, it should feel easier to do the second time. Habit change may be well on it’s way!
Putting Together an Effective Allowance Plan
If you want your children to sleep more, eat better, do their homework faster, a mindful approach may help you get better results. Including positive incentives, ways to hold them accountable and educational messaging is a thorough way to get their attention while making it last. I will quickly run through all three types with examples from the KidCash’s How to Get Your Child to Sleep Better.
#1: The Positive Incentives
You want to help your children learn so the first thing is to make the initial decision easier. Each parent can come up with positive ways to motivate that fit their particular parenting styles or beliefs.
Here are a few ways to make “going to bed” easier:
Things won’t always go as planned. There will be plenty of moments where they’re going to do what they want to do and that’s fine. We want them to explore boundaries in a healthy way and lead them to make productive choices through education and guidance. This is why it is important to let them make the decision, as long as they are safe. It also provides an opportunity to talk about it. Hold them accountable by allowing them to make their choice along with a caveat. Loss aversion can be used as a strong incentive to help make them pause to think about it the next time.
Here are examples of ways you can hold them accountable:
#3: Consistent Educational Messaging
I believe that children care more about getting your attention, hearing that you’re proud of them and having you answer life’s questions more than anything else. Children have curious growing minds and you’ll be surprised how much they want to know. If you show them that following the rules leads to a happy and healthy life, then they will see you as someone who cares about them. Once they see through experience that the things you say are true and useful in the real world, you will build trust. Having a consistent cadence of messaging will keep the doors of communication open, hopefully through their teen years and beyond.
Here are a few things you can teach to get them to value sleep more
Putting the pieces together
In the moment: When a teachable moment initially occurs, that’s the time to be clear about the rules, expectations and the educational reasons that explain why it’s important. Make sure you also set a reminder for yourself to talk about this at the next allowance review.
In between reviews: Repeat your messaging whenever you see an opportunity. Be creative! The more real-life situations you can make connections to, the more social proof you create in their minds. It helps to give them more reasons to follow the rules without you having to tell them. Give them bonuses for any time they told you the rules on their own if you want to incentivize paying attention and retention.
At the allowance review: Go over your list of what went well and what needs improvement. It’s a calm time where you have their attention because they are eager to know how much they are earning. Use this opportunity to repeat your messaging, and to give them a chance to see if they have learned it on their own.
Remember to have patience
Habit formation takes a long time. I’ve seen my children typically take over two months to start doing anything on their own without me having to tell them but now, my 7 and 5 year old save money, budget their own device time, avoid junk food, go to bed on time and a lot of other things we have worked on together. They know I’m proud of them, we have a very open relationship and I feel confident about the future. I hope this can help others to achieve their own parenting goals.
The best we can do is try. Happy Parenting!