The past year I have seen some increasingly concerning behaviors in both of my boys. I spent months racking my brain trying to figure out what was wrong. Finally it hit me! I’d allowed my boys to develop some really bad habits. I knew it was time to take serious action. I have been focusing building good habits in my children for a few months.
Building the Habit of Attention
The first habit that I worked on with my boys was attention. I know it may seem odd to start with this instead of disobedience but I figured if they could not (or would not) pay attention then they would never be able to obey. I’m not talking about working on attention span. When I say attention I mean training them to focus on what they are being told.
First, I stopped repeating myself. I realized that as long as I was willing to repeat myself over and over I was training my boys not to pay attention the first time I spoke. When I need to tell them something I make sure to have their full attention before speaking. I get down on their level, look them in the eye and either put my hand on their shoulder or pull them in my lap. Then I have them repeat what I tell them.
It is taking some patience on my part but I am seeing some steady progress.
Building the Habit of Obedience
The next habit that I worked on with my boys was obedience. Once I was sure that I had their attention and that had broken the habit of not listening I knew that we could work on obeying. Here’s the thing I really want my boys to learn to obey the first time, every time. I know the idea is slightly controversial. I don’t expect my boys to be perfect but I do expect them to come when called and to do as they are told.
We have been practicing obedience as much as we can. I call to them from other side of the house and when they obey the first time I reward them with a hug. If they don’t come the first time I calmly remind them that mommy expects first time obedience and send them back for a do over.
I’ve also started praising them for obeying way more than I correct them for disobeying. It’s slow and steady but I’m so happy to report that I’m seeing great progress. My boys are listening and obeying more and they are learning to self correct as well when they start to disobey
Building the Habit of Honesty
The last habit that I’ve been working on with my boys is honesty! I want my boys to learn the importance of speaking truth at all times. My boys have started getting into the habit of telling lies to get out of trouble and I just cannot allow that to continue.
I spent a lot of time talking with my boys making sure that they understood the difference between the truth and a lie. We read scriptures about honesty. We read stories about telling the truth and talked about the different characters in each one and the consequences of either their honesty or dishonesty. And then I spent some time role playing with my boys. We would make up stories and have the other people say if we were being honest or dishonest.
The games and the stories we really helpful for my little guys. When they would start to be dishonest I could talk with them about it and use the stories/games to reinforce what we were talking about. “Remember what happened when the boy continued to cry wolf? Was that a good thing or a bad thing?” Giving them something to relate to has been super helpful for my little guys
Final Thoughts on Building Habits
Over the past few months I’ve learned some important lessons about habit training with my boys:
- replace a bad habit with a good one: When I was working on getting my boys to tell the truth it was just as important to break them of the habit of being dishonest as it was for them to develop the habit of honesty.
- focus on one habit at a time: I would often see lots of things that we needed to work on and then I’d try to fix everything at the same time. That is a recipe for disaster. Instead just focus on one habit at a time. When a new habit is formed move on to the next one.
- don’t discipline for the habit I’m training: I know it sounds strange but it’s important that when I was training my boys in attention it was super helpful to not also discipline. Why? I believe in disciplining for the things that my children know are wrong. If they need to be trained in something it’s because they haven’t it learned yet. I found that I was often disciplining my boys for something that didn’t know was wrong because I hadn’t taken the time to train them.