The kids do their homework on their way to piano lessons, your family meal is often eaten in front of the TV, and the floor of the family room is covered with shoes, game pieces and newspapers. Most families don’t strive to serve frozen dinners every night or purposely ignore the clutter that builds up at home. But busy schedules, growing kids and any change in lifestyle can trigger the onset of a bad habit.
So how do we teach our kids good habits in the midst of all our bad ones?
“It’s really not the kids who are the issue,” says Laura Gauld, mom of three and author of The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have. “Once we get parents where they need to be, their children will be inspired by their parents’ growth.”
Her book is built around 10 core beliefs on how families can find a balance between character and achievement and offers families ways to find strategies for their most difficult challenges.
“What we try to do is help parents focus on themselves as the primary teachers and the home as the primary classroom,” says Gauld, adding that families who confront their bad habits can change their ways and influence their children.
Sharon Miller Cindrich is a freelance writer and mom.
Too busy for family time
Bad habit: Mom works late most nights, Dad is drowning in home improvements and Junior is signed up for five extracurricular activities. “We aren’t very good at saying no,” says Gauld. “But when you get going and put too many things on your calendar, you become a slave to that schedule and no one is served.”
New habit: Families need to take time out of their hectic schedule and make time for each other. Before your monthly agenda books up, set aside some time for R&R in permanent marker, just like you would for one of your other obligations. Making a commitment to zone out in front of the TV together, read a book at night or play a family game of Monopoly is just as important as any meeting you have during the week.
Eating on the go
Bad habit: The kids eat in the car on the way to soccer practice, standing at the kitchen counter or in front of the TV. “We can’t beat ourselves up for being on the go,” Gauld says, “but making an effort to sit down as a family, even once or twice a week, is really up for success.”
New habit: Plan family meal times and make an effort to sit down together at least half the nights each week. Have kids help find crock pot recipes or easy soup and sandwich menus they can help prepare and cook. Assign each family a task (Dad is in charge of dessert, Mom makes the main course, and the kids can place biscuits on a pan, set the table or pour the beverages). Turn off the ringer on the phone, light candles, bring out the china and make it special at least once a week.
Driving too much
Bad habit: You drive to school, the grocery store, even your neighbor’s home just two blocks away. The kids could walk home from a friend’s house, but they call you for personal limo service every time.
New habit: Ask your family each time you set off on an excursion if you can walk instead. Encourage children to walk to school, the park, even the convenience store for a gallon of milk to keep your family exercising and teach kids to appreciate the ride. If you have to drive, build in some extra time, park half way to your destination and get some fresh air as you walk across the parking lot
Bad habit: The dining room table is stacked with papers, the fish tank is dirty, and you can’t see the floor in the children’s rooms. “The home needs to be a cherished place,” says Gauld, who notes that the home is often treated as a way station. “There is a principle of ownership and respect for our things that we need to teach,” and parents need to lead the way for kids.
New habit: Dedicate one or two hours each weekend to a whirlwind tidy-fest. Get kids together, turn on music and hand out assignments. Dust and vacuum bedrooms, clean out backpacks and briefcases, and organize your closet so you’ll have clean clothes for the coming week. Each time, add one major chore-like raking leaves or organizing the toy chest-that the whole family can do together.
Missing special days
Bad habit: Dad’s birthday came and went. Your anniversary passed without a card. It’s easier to deal with the guilt of missing special days than the pressure of planning a big celebration. “Some of the most special things are done when people work together,” Gauld says, adding that the achievement culture drives us to think special events need to be big.
New habit: Think small when planning a party and ask for help from other family members. Develop a family celebration day that fits into everyone’s schedule each month to honor special events: anniversaries, sports victories, birthdays and good grades.