January 07, 2013

Training Children in Good Habits

Argh!  Some things we are trying to teach our children are a source of constant frustration because we hear ourselves continually repeating the same instructions over and over.  For example, the last several days I have had to remind my daughter that getting dressed includes putting on socks and brushing her hair.

Another recurring mantra I hear coming from my mouth is when one of the girls comes out of the bathroom and I say, "Did you wash your hands?"  The youngest of my three girls has made hand-washing a regular habit, while the others have not.

"Did you change your underwear this morning?"
"Did you hang up your towel after your bath?"
"Did you clean up your Legos when you were done playing with them?"
"Did you put the books back on the bookshelf?"
"Did you put your dishes in the dishwasher?"

The most intense series of parental advice packed into a small amount of time comes at meals:  table manners.  We have a list of table manners posted in our dining room for all to see.  They are:

1. Sit on your bottom with your feet and knees down.
2. Say "may I", "please", "thank you", and "you're welcome".
3. Mealtime is not playtime.
4. Do not play with your food or dishes.
5. Don't sing or make silly noises.
6. Chew with your lips closed.
7. Don't talk with food in your mouth.
8. Wait patiently for food to be passed to you.
9. Eat your food without complaining.

My poster is pretty cute, actually, with a table drawn above the set of manners.  Each manner is color-coded, and I will say, "What does the green rule say?" to someone who is violating the green rule.  Everyone knows you should not talk with food in your mouth.  But this bad habit is one of the most highly committed offenses in our home.

It's really getting old.  There must be some way to break the vicious cycle, to stop the insanity of repetitious reminders.  I'm getting tired of hearing myself talk.

We have tried rewards for doing daily responsibilities.  Didn't work.  Nobody checked their list to ensure they had done what was expected of them for that day.  There are certain privileges the girls cannot enjoy unless some things are done.  For example, no TV or computer games if your room is a mess, or your clean laundry is not put away.  Yet, sometimes I forget to ask, or check, or sometimes Dad forgets too.

I know they're only 6, almost 8, and 10.  I want to see them taking initiative and responsibility for all these areas of personal care, manners, taking care of their rooms and belongings, and practicing their piano without my constant nagging.  I don't like being a nag.  There must be a better way.

I think my next approach will be to tackle one good habit per child per month, or until it's mastered.  It's going to probably require a lot of diligence and energy on my part until they are trained.  I guess that's my job as a mom anyway.  Ugh.

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