I recently spoke to a group of mothers about childhood habits we can start when our children are still young — AKA when they still (mostly) listen to us and we’re the biggest influence in their lives. I remember when my oldest was younger and I was so anxious to know what was coming next. What could I do to prepare my children for elementary school? And beyond that, middle school and high school? I was truly blessed to have many wise women who were a few steps ahead of me in the journey of parenting share their lessons learned, as well as such rich mom wisdom. Fast forward to now — I have a teenager, a preschooler, and two in between, and I can share some wisdom that I’ve gained on my own parenting journey over the last 15 years.
If you’ve been a follower of DoSayGive for any amount of time, then you know that I’m a big fan of starting habits early on. They only help as you navigate the highs and lows as a parent, and trust me there are many. And when your children are still young, I think the most impactful thing you can do is instill in them Biblical truth and virtues, build trust with them, and establish good habits.
Today I’m sharing six habits — some family and some individual — that will serve your children well and help your household run smoother. And will serve your children well when they get to be teens as well! Remember, as with all things parenting, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
6 FAMILY HABITS TO START EARLY
1. Start a family routine.
Developing a family rhythm is comforting for babies and all the way through the teenage years! Children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect — it helps them feel a sense of comfort and security, no matter their age. But of course, things happen (illness, travel, holidays) so we can’t be too rigid or life will be constantly frustrating. My family has certain things we do to incorporate routine and rhythm throughout our day. It starts with an early bedtime — research has consistently proven that an early bedtime for children helps their physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Not only that, but going to bed early helps set a routine — and routines are so good for children. They know what to expect every night, so meltdowns are reduced and battles about going to sleep are less likely.
Beyond our nighttime routine, we have family dinners every night (although sometimes one child has youth group, or my husband is out of town, but we still have our dinner without them). And in the morning before school, I try to do a devotional with my girls every day at breakfast. These little touch points help form a rhythm to our day. And teen appreciate the comfort of that routine, too. All children thrive when they know what to expect!
2. Build a family culture.
As I shared on Instagram a couple of weeks ago, I think it’s so important to prioritize family unity and to start building a family culture when children are young. This will mean something different to every family, but the heart is this: Create a home and family environment that feels safe, where everyone is always welcome and loved — and you actually have fun together! This will serve children well as they enter the teen years and experience being left out or are struggling to find friends. They’ll know that their family will always have their back, that they belong somewhere, and family life will be a respite from the stresses of the world.
Start this when they’re little! Create fun family traditions, like Friday night pizza night. Carve out, prioritize, and protect family time — don’t be afraid to say “no” to things that infringe on this, and make a point to do fun things at home together. Consider adopting a family motto, like “The Cordons stick together” for times when you might be swayed to go along with what others are doing. And lastly, teach siblings the importance of having each other’s back — protecting one another at school, standing up for them, and cheering each other on.
3. Have ample non-tech time.
Have you ever been at a restaurant and seen a table where everyone is glued to their phone or tablet? Not talking to or looking at one another? This is sadly the norm these days, both in public and at home. But you’re family doesn’t have to be the norm! Limit technology to encourage family time. Too much technology inhibits social skills and manners, it isolates them (the same goes for adults, too), it crushes their sense of wonder and imagination. It’s nearly impossible to compete with technology these days — but what a gift it is to give children their sense of innocence as long as we can. When technology begins to consume young children, the long-term effects outweigh any short-term respite for parents.
Instead of handing a child a tablet or turning on the TV, send them outside. Being in nature does wonders for children, from motor skill and sensory development to sparking creativity. Spend time in your backyard or at a favorite park during the week, or go for a walk in your neighborhood — this helps expel that extra energy, too! But beyond that, take your children camping or hiking as they get older, and give them the gift of slowing down in our fast-paced world. They’ll come to cherish these memories with you, I promise! And beyond going outside, allow your children to have unstructured free time. Let them be bored, and let them create at home. This will give you a respite and give them a chance to explore their creative side.
4. Expect kindness and respect at home.
This could be a whole talk on its own, but treating others well is a habit that takes practice. It’s easy to fall into a bad habit of snarky words or eye rolls to siblings, so we have to really work at making kind habits the norm in our home. I always tell myself that if my girls aren’t treating each other well in our home, then I can’t expect them to be treating others well outside the home either. Teaching them to love and serve others starts here!
When my girls were little, we spoke often about “putting others first” based on Philippians 2:3-4. We also have a phrase — “when someone needs help” — and they repeat back “we help them.” Kindness is a habit that we are constantly reminding them about, so don’t be discouraged if you are as well. It’s all about maintaining consistency and letting them know what is expected of them.
5. Encourage a love of learning.
This may seem like more of an academic habit, but it doesn’t necessarily look academic in the younger years. Instilling a love of learning from an early age will serve children well in the teen years and beyond — and the good news is that we don’t need any special tools or skills to do this when they’re little. Just including them in our daily routines and teaching as we go does wonders! The biggest gift we can give our children in this regard is by reading to them. Readers are thinkers and don’t we want our children to be critical thinkers in this digital age? Both in and out of school?
Read aloud to your children, go to the library, and incorporate books in your day-to-day. Going on a trip? Check out a few books about your destination from your local library! Conversation is also so beneficial to children’s language and vocabulary development (even babies!), so talk to your child throughout the day and ask questions. There are so many teachable moments, even in the mundane — at the grocery store looking at fruits and vegetables, looking for letters while you drive, and looking for shapes and colors on errands. Our children take after us, after all. So if we’re modeling a love of learning, asking questions, and reading, then they’ll follow suit!
6. Make gratitude a habit.
And finally, instill a spirit of gratitude in your children. Start simply: Make saying “thank you” a habit, both in and out of the home. If dad or a sibling refills a water glass or holds the door, teach your child to say “thank you” even if this is something that happens multiple times a day. Beyond that, cultivate a spirit of gratitude by teaching children to write thank you notes for birthdays and holidays. It’s a habit that steers the heart to be one of gratitude.
I hope this has been encouraging to you and given you some ideas for your family and children! Instilling these habits will serve them well in later years, as well as make your household run smoother (and more enjoyable). And isn’t that what we all want?! Remember that habits take practice, reminding, prompting, and correcting. For children, and for adults too sometimes! Grace abounds and it’s important for us to model that for our children and for ourselves.
Have any ideas you’d add to this list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!