Cultivating good habits for kids is one of the most important parenting tasks we have. Here are some simple strategies to help!
It wasn’t that long ago when every Chick-fil-A employee knew both my name and my exact order. Large Coke, extra ice. I probably should have been embarrassed by that fact, but I didn’t realize I had a problem.
You see, growing up, we didn’t drink soda at all. In fact, I didn’t even like it. In my mind, soda was no big deal. When I was pregnant, I began having issues with very low blood sugar and found that Coke seemed to cure my ailment. Little by little, I became a regular at the drive-thru until, years later, I couldn’t go a single day without two or three stops.
I was addicted.
I have no intention of making light of a drug or alcohol addiction, but I can tell you, my Coke addiction was no little thing. I couldn’t live without it. I needed it to “feel good” and it very much controlled my life. It determined where I would drive, when I would stop, and how much time I had for other activities.
The longer it went on, the worse it got as the sugar issues continued to rage, wreaking havoc on my health. I tried to quit hundreds of times, but I couldn’t make it past a few hours. It took over a year of what seems like a ridiculous struggle to finally break free from the habit.
The thing I learned from this experience is something I don’t want anyone to miss: our little choices become habits and they really matter!
The things that make or break us are the tiny things we choose without even thinking.
That’s why cultivating good habits for kids has become one of my top priorities as a mom. Not because I want them to look good or have the most successful careers someday. Because the little things turn into daily habits that deeply impact life. We always think it’s the big decisions like college or who we will marry, but it’s not.
I tell my kids, “Every choice you make is changing WHO you are becoming.” It’s both comforting and convicting at the same time. Every choice we make changes us and puts us on a path in a particular direction. Bad choices will lead us on a path away from our goals. Good choices will take us where we want to go.
Headed down the wrong path? At any time, you can change your direction with a single decision. But it also works the opposite way. It just takes a single decision to turn us down the wrong path.
Every single choice matters. Every single little tiny thing. I want my kids to see this truth as early as possible because so often we toss aside the little decisions we make, assuming they are of little consequence.
If we want to live our lives on the right path, we can’t afford to make light of the little choices. Instead, we need to be intentional about every choice, which leads me to habits. Have you ever stopped to think about what a habit really is?
A habit is something we do without
even thinking about it.
They are little things, but habits possess great power to change our lives in either direction. This is why it’s crucial that parents are intentional about cultivating good habits for kids.
21 Good Habits for Kids
1. Try new things
This is one habit we really want to help our kids establish. Change can be hard. Inviting new things into our “comfortable life” is something many of us would prefer not to do. Encourage your kids to resist this kind of comfort. I tell my kids to try at least one new thing every single day.
Maybe it’s a new food, a new activity, or possibly even striking up a conversation with a new friend. This one habit will help kids step outside of their comfort zone and do incredible things in life.
2. Wash your hands
Now I know I don’t need to tell YOU this, but do you need to tell your kids this? (Don’t worry, I’m guilty, too.) The other day I had a conversation with my 12-year-old about why it wasn’t good enough to wash your hands with only water. <insert parent eye roll>
It’s funny how we THINK we’ve taught our kids things that we later find out they somehow don’t know. Don’t take this one for granted. Work to help your kids understand proper handwashing and also the proper times to do it: after the restroom, before eating, when coming inside, etc.
3. Eat at the table
Has your family fallen into the bad habit of eating on the sofa or on the go? Research tells us that STRONG families eat dinner together. This is a habit you can model and enforce now, so your children will cherish it for a lifetime. As often as humanly possible, eat meals together at the table.
Eating meals together gives you the needed opportunity to connect, talk about struggles or celebrate memories, and share what God is teaching you. Don’t skip this crucial family habit!
4. Sleep well
There is something innate in people that makes us excited to boast about how much we can do with very little sleep. In fact, many people still claim that they only need five hours a night, but doctors and researchers have an insurmountable amount of data that shows how desperately even ADULTS need eight hours of sleep. Kids need 10-12 hours… especially toddlers and teens!
Don’t buy the lie that we need less sleep. Help your kids establish the habit of cherishing their sleep and making it a priority in life. A good bedtime routine and consistent bedtime go a long way in helping kids (and adults) have happy and effective days. Check out this post, if getting your kids to stay in bed is a challenge.
5. Morning routine
Probably one of the most important strategies for helping kids establish good habits is the morning routine. Start simple with just 1-3 tasks, then build up as they become habit. A great morning routine is the perfect start to an effective day.
For young children, our morning routine starts with self-care: brush your teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. Eventually, that becomes so routine, you can add in more steps like making the bed, tidying your room, and having a morning devotion time. (More on that later.)
By the way, one of the ways I teach a morning routine to young children is through this morning checklist.
6. Take breaks
I’ll admit, breaks are hard for me. I have a bit of a bulldozer personality when it comes to accomplishing my task list. Maybe you’re the opposite and find that “breaks” make up most of your day. Haha. Either way, we all need to have a healthy relationship with regular breaks in our day.
Most of us have been institutionalized to believe that concentrating for long periods of time is a good thing. It’s NOT! Teach your kids to take healthy breaks so they can work more effectively.
Our breaks look like this: every 30 minutes we stand and stretch and get our eyes focused on something else for about five minutes. I love to use timers to help us with this. For my elementary kids, they take a break after each subject is finished. If you have kids under 10 years old, a break every 15 minutes is even better.
We also take at least one break a day to go outside, and one for lunch. Both of these last 30-60 minutes. Once the break is over, go back to work (school, chores, studying, whatever the task is). You’ll find better concentration and more effective work as a result.
7. Guard your heart
This might not seem like a habit, but it very much is. One way or another, images, sounds, words, and thoughts are going into our hearts. It’s a constant bombardment of information. These things get into our hearts through our eyes and our ears (Matthew 6:22-23).
We will either have a habit of putting the ugly stuff before our eyes and ears or we will have a habit of putting pure and moral things before them. It can’t be both. The Bible warns us many times of the danger of what we see, what we listen to, and what we allow ourselves to think about.
If you’d like help teaching your kids to guard their hearts, check out this post.
8. Finish the task
This habit is the granddaddy of all kinds of good things, but it starts small: finish the task. We want to teach kids to work at whatever they are doing until it’s done. And then to FINISH the task by putting things away. I’m so glad my mom worked hard on this with my sister and me. This foundational habit has been so helpful to me not just as a reminder to put things away when you finish, but to fully live out your commitment and close the deal in an honorable way.
Remember, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Kids who learn to finish building the tower and put all of the pieces away are kids who grow up to understand that you finish the job and give a two-week notice before you move on, if needed. We don’t want to raise kids who skip out on responsibilities or do things halfway.
9. Put it away
To piggyback on #8, another good habit for kids to learn is to put things away. This applies to the things you are playing with or the items you are using for a task. But it also applies to things you find along the way. See something out of place? Put it away. Check the mail on your way in? Put it away. Take off your shoes? Put them away.
We don’t leave tasks undone and we don’t walk past things that should be put away. Of course, this includes picking up litter and other things that don’t even belong to us! Being responsible even when others aren’t is a skill we all want to build into the next generation.
10. Don’t buy it unless you have the money
Pardon me while I step on a few toes, but this is a habit most adults haven’t mastered. As a result, more than 80% of our society is in so much debt that they may never be able to climb out. Debt is a habit and it’s always a bad one. Don’t let your kids even THINK about starting it.
If they want something in the checkout line and promise to pay you back when they get home- tell them no. That’s debt and it’s a BAD habit. Same goes for an advance on money they have yet to earn. Again, that’s debt and it will only hurt your kids if you allow them to spend money they don’t actually have.
Read more about how I teach my kids to manage money here. I share how I work that into our chore system and my favorite resource for teaching kids about finances.
11. Tell the truth
We don’t often think of lying as a habit, but it certainly is. It’s a habit our kids can easily fall into. The best way to fight this bad habit is to teach our kids to always tell the truth. But you and I both know that takes training because telling the truth doesn’t come naturally and it’s not easy.
There are lots of times in life where a lie seems so much easier. We have to help our kids understand what it looks like to tell the truth and how to do it with the right heart. In fact, there is this whole matter of teaching our kids to be mindful of what they say. The Bible warns and rebukes us over and over again about the things that come out of our mouth.
12. Respond kindly
Speaking of the tongue, we want to teach our kids to have the habit of responding kindly. This means speaking the truth in LOVE, but it also is much more. It means looking at a person and acknowledging them when they speak to you. It means speaking in a respectful and obedient way to authority.
As mentioned above, help your kids control their tongue. In this post, I share five parenting strategies and a resource to help you.
13. Respond with thanks
The things we say are very important, but it goes deeper than that as it starts with the attitude of our heart. God doesn’t leave us to guess what this attitude should be. We are told over and over again in the Bible to give thanks and be thankful in ALL THINGS (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
“ALL things” includes the things you like, the things you don’t like, and the things you’d give anything to not have to face. Thankfulness is a habit. It’s something we have to work hard towards ourselves and even harder to help our kids accomplish. But it’s God’s perfect way for us. In fact, it’s the only way to feel happy.
Read 6 ways to raise a truly thankful kid for tips and strategies to help you cultivate an attitude of gratitude in your home.
14. Obey authority
Obedience has become a bit of a bad word in our culture today. Should we obey authority? I could give you an answer, but don’t listen to me. Haha. Listen to God. The Bible tells us over and over again to submit to authority… even authority that might be wicked.
Disobedience is a BAD habit that most humans struggle to break. On earth, none of us will ever be free from the temptation to disobey, but we can establish a habit of obedience. We can be generally known by our willingness to obey the people that God places over us because we know that we can trust Him.
Learn more about the importance of obedience and get help teaching your children this habit today!
15. Work every day
This one might ruffle some feathers, but hear me out. Somewhere along the way, we’ve associated work with negative feelings. But that is NOT how God originally designed it. Work is what we are made for. It’s not something reserved only for those leaving the house with a briefcase every day.
Work is what we do in life. It might be work outside the home to bring in a paycheck that provides for the family. It might be work inside the home to take care of children. Or it might be schoolwork we do to prepare us for the future. It’s harmful to teach children that one day they will “have to work.”
Work is a privilege we are given by a gracious God to enjoy!
Teach your children to do chores at an early age and to work hard at school. This isn’t something we take breaks from during the summer or on arbitrary holidays. Work is a blessing and we can learn to see it that way!
Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t rest or that every day has the same workload. Only that we ought to change our perspective about work so that it’s a natural habit to enjoy doing it every day of our lives. (Because we will in one way or another find ourselves needing to do some form of work every single day.)
16. Read every day
You’ve probably heard all the sayings about the importance of reading. “Readers are leaders” is the first one to come to mind, but here’s the thing: Becoming a reader isn’t about poising yourself for leadership. It’s about success in life.
If we want to succeed, we have to be willing to stop long enough to take in ideas that are outside of our own thinking, most importantly, from the Bible.
Help your kids find a time during the day when they can build the habit of reading. Then help them do it. Parents should also model this habit by having a family read-aloud time as often as possible. We try to do this every day at lunch, but it can be after dinner, breakfast, or any other time that fits your family schedule.
17. Serve others
Biblically speaking, we were put on this earth with only a few very specific agendas. One of the most prominent commands Jesus gives us is to serve others. He modeled this through His life and reminded us of its value over and over again.
Of all of the good habits for kids, serving should be at the top of your list. But don’t get visions of the soup kitchen in mind and wonder how you will add one more thing to your already overloaded schedule. Serving may include volunteering at the soup kitchen or in the church nursery, but it STARTS AT HOME. We serve when we set the table, refill drinks, or let a sibling go first. We serve when we do chores, help someone clean a mess, and when we make dinner.
Help your kids make a habit of serving daily. One way we encourage this is by cultivating brother and sister love. In this post, you’ll find practical ways to encourage your kids to care for one another, including a super fun challenge to help siblings find ways to serve each other.
18. Do the next right thing
Once kids understand the importance of obedience, they need to master the temptation of the moment. Life is full of questions. It’s full of paths we’ve never taken and forks in the road that seem uncertain. One of the habits I’ve taught my kids is to DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING.
We don’t always know which answer is right and we don’t always know which way to turn. But we can keep on making wise choices one choice at a time. If you’d like help teaching your children to make wise choices, this post is for you.
19. First things first
Have you ever thought about procrastination as a bad habit? Well, it is. (Sorry if I stepped on your toes again!) Procrastination at its core is the habit of doing something else instead of the thing you need to do. Sometimes we lose sight of this truth and just laugh off our procrastinator tendencies, but if we are honest, this isn’t something we want our kids to emulate.
Instead, a good habit for kids is to put first things first. I teach my kids that phrase and will often ask them to tell me what they should do first. This gives them the opportunity to verbally process what the first thing should be. And it compels them to act on it.
In our house, “first things first” always starts with God. Once you’ve given Him your best, work comes next. Only after those two are done should you consider other tasks. For more help, read 5 Steps for Teaching Responsibility to Your Kids.
20. Pray without ceasing
Another key habit I want my kids to cultivate is prayer. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. This doesn’t mean we need to stay on our knees all day. It means we should be in regular and constant communication with God, just like we would with a friend.
If I had to rank habits in order of importance, I’d say this one is #2. Prayer is essential for life. Our kids need it desperately in order to survive this world. They need God to guide them, comfort them, and help them stand firm. Prayer is the only way to get that support.
Start this habit very young by praying at meals and before bed, but don’t forget to continue to develop it as your kids get older. One resource we love is the JOY Prayer Cards. They give prompts and ideas to help us grow deeper in prayer. Find strategies for helping your kids develop the habit of prayer in this post.
21. Daily quiet time
I saved the best for last. If you wondered why I said prayer was #2, it’s because spending time with God is #1. (Of course, prayer is a part of that!) By spending time with God I mean having a quiet time or devotional time. There is NO HABIT more important to teach your kids than this one.
I’ll share MUCH more about this important habit in my free video course below, but the most important thing you need to know is this…
Habits will be the roots our kids need to help them stand firm in Christ and GROW in faith.
Good Habits for Kids Mini-Course
In this FREE 3-session, video mini-course, I’ll teach you exactly how to help your kids create healthy habits that will GROW their faith and help them stand firm in Christ. These habits will be the foundation they need as they grow into adults.
The sessions include three key truths:
- Habits are Roots– a look at the foundational importance of habits
- Habits are Easier– the science behind the four W’s of habits
- Habits GROW Faith– the 3 mistakes we can make in teaching our kids about habits and how to correct those so our kids’ faith can grow
To enroll in this FREE course, simply click the image below!