Hacking your kids’ habits via gamification — our recipe explained (Habitica.com)

One of my biggest struggles when raising kids has always been teaching them proper habits. You know, simple things like ‘brush your teeth’, ‘keep your room tidy’ (relatively ;-) or ‘do your homework for tomorrow’.

Do you struggle with these as well? Have you ever been really successful? Well, looks like we’ve found a good ‘hack’ for teaching our kids proper habits and behaviours, using gamification.

Sounds odd, right? Playing tricks on your own kids? Well, but what else are we usually trying to do? Given so many advances in technology and kids’ love for tech, we decided to take a shot. Our choice of app/software was Habitica, a simple but pretty nicely made RPG-like game. (links below)

We are now about a month into the process, with really surprisingly good results. The aim was to get my older son, Miki (10) into a set of habits which I thought a kid in his age should regularly perform. To my even bigger surprise, after about a week, my younger son, Franek (6) expressed a big desire to join the game. Both boys now eagerly await the ‘evening review time’, when we all sit down to review the day’s achievements. This is when proper behaviours get rewarded in ‘gold’ and bad performance causes a ‘loss of health’. Of course, they also, for most time, remember about proper habits and to-do’s during the day. Or they correct themselves when reminded by my wife or me. Sounds too good to be true, right?


OK, so how it all works — our approach with Habitica explained.

So what exactly is Habitica and how we set up the whole ‘family game’? Thought I should explain a little bit how Habitica works and how we set up our habits, little duties and to-do’s. Did I say ‘our’? Yes — the key trick, in my view is, that whole family — kids and both parents — participate in the game. Moreover, the whole family should participate in setting each person’s ‘habits’, ‘dailies’ and ‘to-dos’.

Habitica is, as explained on their website “a free habit building and productivity app that treats your real life like a game. With in-game rewards and punishments to motivate you and a strong social network to inspire you, Habitica can help you achieve your goals to become healthy, hard-working, and happy.

So, one Sunday, we sat down with our boys and set up the whole thing for each person. As mentioned earlier the key in our case was to discuss and decide on habits, dailies and to-dos together. You may not realize how other family members see you. For example, one of my ‘dailies’ — in other words daily habits/tasks that I have to perform everyday, as proposed by my kids is ‘I do not lay down and read every spare moment’. Wait a moment, me?! Just like the old stereotype of father/husband, who comes back to work and lays on sofa to read newspaper!?!? I am a modern father, active, engaged — this must be a mistake! Well, you have to turn off your personal pride for the sake of exercise and — more importantly — to really improve. Looks like regardless what I thought about myself, that was my real behaviour — one that needed to be corrected. And I am checked against it everyday, by my kids and wife.

Back to kids — what are the example ‘dailies’ we decided to set for them? Small, usual stuff — like ‘I read every day’, ‘I wash teeth twice daily’, ‘I write down homework’, ‘I make up my bed’, ‘I keep order in my room’ or ‘I don’t take my brother’s toys without his permission’. Example ‘habits’ are: ‘I read more than 10 pages’, ‘I don’t fight with my brother’ ‘I don’t say bad things to others’, ‘I help others’ etc. Habits can be both positive or negative (‘I don’t fight with by brother’), or just positive (‘I help others’) or only negative (‘I don’t lie’). Then we also have ‘to-dos’, which we left for some bigger tasks, which if carried on until successful finish, are rewarded. Examples? ‘’Write assignment for extra grade’ or ‘learn to ride a bike’.

Each evening, we seat all together and go through an ‘assessment process’. Each person’s ‘dailies’, ‘habits’ and ‘to-dos’ are read out loud and evaluated by four of us. We ask each of us if we really did as we should etc. This is very important moment and since start of our experience with Habitica we haven’t missed one evening — our kids are very eager to remind us about it.

Ok, so far so good, but what makes kids really play the game? — we’ve already had whiteboards with some ‘daily scores’, different contests etc. They kid of worked for few days and them lost their shine. Why this time it’s different? There is a small, but smart feature, which makes Habitica an RPG kind of game: you become a character in the game, displayed in the top left corner, one that earns gold for good performance and looses ‘health/life’ for not acting properly. You also get ‘eggs’, which you can hatch with ‘potion’, which you also receive for sticking to your habits and turn into different ‘pets’ which you can feed with ‘food’, also received as reward. After you feed your pets, they become ‘mounts’ that you can ride (basically you see a picture of your little figurine riding on the animal). Each habit is rewarded with gold, for which you can buy yourself an extra equipment, like swords, shields, helms etc. Of course, you can also be a girl in the game and get some more girly equipment.

I will keep you posted on how our family experience with habit-shaping game progresses (or not). In the meantime — please do shout if you have some questions — we, the whole team — will try to answer.

While Habitica can be used on tablets and smartphones, I do recommend runing the main review on a computer screen, as it gives whole overview and gives access to all functions.

You can find details about Habitica here:

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