It’s never too early for your baby or toddler to begin learning good habits and behaviors! Teaching good habits and responsibility for kids can start early. As adults, we tend to focus on children’s developmental stages. For example, our attention may be on teaching our children how to crawl, potty training, or their abilities in sports. These concepts are certainly important and exciting when our children show interest in learning them, but it is also important to expose and practice good habits with our children EARLY on (or as soon as they are capable). As we know it takes a lot of practice and repetition for children to learn new information. The great news is our children are little sponges as their brain develops! According to California Department of Education, “Recent brain research indicates that birth to age three are the most important years in a child’s development.” Here are 4 habits and behaviors you can start practicing with your little one to help them learn responsibility in their most influential years!
Teaching Good Habits and Responsibility for Kids
1. Practicing independent playtime
Try beginning independent play as early as 6 months to 1 year. Independent playtime is important for a number of reasons and it will take practice for your child to learn this new skill. Your child will learn a lot as they play by themselves. Babies and toddlers will gain independence, confidence, creativity, problem solving skills, and have the opportunity to explore the world around them on their own.
Choose a safe place such as a play pen or crib for your baby to explore and play independently. Start with a few minutes and build upon this time as your baby gets older. Offer your baby a few of their favorite toys to explore. My 10 month old baby plays independently (approximately 10 minutes now) in her Pack n’ Play. She loves exploring her stuffed animals, soft books, or stackable toys. She really seems to enjoy the time by herself. While I tidy the kitchen, I peek in on her every few minutes, and listen for her in case she is unhappy. It’s a good idea to choose the same time everyday for playing independently and pick a time when your baby is happy. My daughter usually plays independently in the morning after her bottle. She is alert and has a full belly, allowing her to focus on the objects around her.
My son who is 4 now, also had independent play time as a baby. As your child gets older, the type of play and amount of time will adjust to fit their age. Now my son is able to handle longer stretches of independent play time. I’m talking 45 minutes playing independently and sometimes longer! As a busy mom, you can probably relate that this time is golden!! What’s also neat, is that as he plays on his own I have really seen his abilities and confidence grow. He is constantly impressing me as he chooses projects he wants to create and sees it through. He enjoys playing with toys and making different projects. For instance, he will pull out Magna-Tiles to build with, create cards or collages, or put a puzzle together. His problem solving skills, creativity, and confidence have really blown me away as he works on his own.
2. Have your child clean up after themselves
Take the time to teach your little one to clean up after himself! Although, teaching a toddler to clean up after himself takes a lot of patience and is often a slow process at first, this exercise will pay off. Trying to teach your older child to clean up after his mess will prove to be much more challenging if these expectations and guidelines are not set from a very early age.
Cleaning responsibilities your child can begin as a toddler:
It’s time to teach your toddler cleaning tasks that you are doing everyday for him. Have him take some responsibility and he will feel proud of his work! For example, once your child knows how to walk he can begin to practice putting his dirty laundry away where it belongs. It will probably take longer then if you were to do it, especially since a few items may be dropped along the way. But, don’t worry he will get more experienced each time he practices.
Another task your child can help with is cleaning the floor after breakfast. I don’t know about your toddler, but when my son began eating dry cereal it would land ALL over the floor. I taught my son how to hold the dustpan as I sweep. This way he can be a part of the cleaning process. I even invested in a dollar store dustpan with a long handle that my son enjoys using. Now he has learned that each day after breakfast, he helps clean the floor before we play.
Lets not forget about cleaning up toys. The rule in our house is we clean up one toy before taking out another. Although this rule isn’t perfect, with lots of practice, he has the understanding that his toys need to be put away once he’s done playing with them. As your child learns to clean up his toys, try singing a song as he puts them away.
It’s important to make these mundane tasks fun, especially when they are learning. Singing songs or turning clean up time into a game of how quickly the blocks can be put away will keep clean up time fun and not a struggle. It’s really never too early to teach good habits like responsibility. Often times my little guy will offer his help or come running to the rescue when his mommy or daddy could use an extra hand! Think about a few tasks you may be doing for your child that he is capable of doing himself. Start teaching your child how to clean up and remember: be patient!
3. Teach your children good manners and communication skills
It’s so important to teach our children good manners and being polite when they are young. Not only will you and your family appreciate it, but other adults and children will enjoy your child more too. Of course, teaching your children to say please and thank you from a very early age is a great way to start good manners. Have your child practice please and thank you with you, but also with others too. For example, they can practice with other people when they are given a sticker at the doctor’s office or a cookie at the bakery. Even with my constant push for good manners, there have been plenty of times when my son will use words such as, “Gimme my water.” Often times I will say try again and have my son repeat, “Can I please have my water?” Good manners take practice, like any other skill.
Along with good manners, teach your children to use their big boy voice. Luckily we are mostly past the whining stage, but there was a time when my son would communicate by whining. Like most parents this would drive me crazy. Instead of repeating “STOP whining!” try using a different tactic by saying, “I don’t understand your words, try using your big boy voice.” This was very helpful during my son’s whining stage. He knew that if he used his whiny voice he wouldn’t receive what he wanted, but I made sure to be very receptive when he used his big boy voice! Good manners and communication skills are both important habits to practice when your children are little.
4. Practice Good Hygiene
I must admit that this momma is a bit OCD! But, in any case, it is important to practice good hygiene with your baby and toddlers. After all, we as parents are setting the stage for our children’s future hygiene habits. It’s never too early to begin brushing teeth with your children. When they are babies you can start by wiping their gums or emerging teeth with a wet soft washcloth. Once their first teeth come in you can begin with a soft toothbrush. As we brush teeth with my son and daughter, we sing the ABC’s over and over as part of our routine. As my pediatrician said at my daughter’s 6 month appointment, “Start brushing teeth now, so they know nothing different.”
Washing hands is another important habit to practice when they are little so they get into a routine of washing after using the bathroom, playing at the park, before snack and meals, etc… Does my son give me a hard time sometimes when he has to wash hands AGAIN? Yes, it happens, but it’s so important to practice healthy habits, especially when his hands are constantly on his face and in his mouth. I usually try saying you can have ____ once you wash your hands. Along with hand washing, bathing is another non-negotiable. Try getting into a routine with your child of practicing healthy habits that he’ll carry into adulthood.
Teaching good habits early is a lot of work! But, raising a child with bad habits is A LOT more work! So, put in the effort when they are little and you will be so pleased you did! Don’t forget to be patient and make sure to give them a lot of praise as they practice their new skills.
What are some habits you’re thankful you’ve taught your children early?