All of the ways we can help our kids build good habits

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki Stevenson

Nikki is a parenting writer and a mom to three wild boys who keep her on her toes (and occasionally make her question her sanity). With over 15 years of experience in the parenting industry, she has more tips and tricks than Mary Poppins on speed dial. When she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her sipping on coffee, hiding in the bathroom for five minutes of...
Updated on Jan 24, 2024 · 6 mins read
All of the ways we can help our kids build good habits

As a parent and writer, I spend much of my time learning about and sharing parenting tips with others. But when it came to teaching my own 12-year-old son the importance of healthy habits, I was at a loss. I knew I needed to find a way to help him make better choices, but how? Then one day, while watching him struggle to focus on his homework, it hit me: I needed to practice what I preach and dive into the research.

So, I embarked on a mission to understand the science behind healthy habits for tweens and discovered some fascinating facts. Armed with this knowledge, I’d like to share a few scientifically backed tips for teaching your children how to prioritise healthy habits.

Start with the basics: sleep, nutrition, and exercise

Dr Dimitri Christakis, a paediatrician and researcher, states that “sleep, exercise, and nutrition are essential for the optimal development and functioning of a child’s brain”.

To help your tween establish these healthy habits, set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, encourage a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and incorporate daily physical activity. Remember to make it fun – try new recipes, explore different sports, or go on family walks together.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Create themed nights for meals, like “Taco Tuesday” or “Smoothie Saturday”.
  • Use fun sleep masks or relaxing music to create a bedtime atmosphere.
  • Play interactive games that involve physical activity, like dance games or obstacle courses.
  • Set family fitness challenges or goals to work towards together.

Teach them the art of mindfulness

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness expert, suggests that “mindfulness can help children develop emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-awareness, as well as reduce stress and anxiety”.

Simple activities like deep breathing exercises, guided meditation, or even just a few moments of quiet reflection can make a big difference in helping your child develop healthy habits for managing stress and maintaining focus.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Introduce age-appropriate mindfulness books or videos.
  • Use a glitter jar or stress ball as a visual aid for calming exercises.
  • Set up a “gratitude jar” where your child can add notes about what they’re thankful for.
  • Practice “mindful walks” together, focusing on the sights, sounds, and smells around you.

Foster a growth mindset

Dr Carol Dweck, the psychologist who coined the term “growth mindset,” explains that “students who have a growth mindset show a desire to learn, embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and believe that their abilities can be developed”.

Encourage your child to embrace challenges, learn from setbacks, and believe in their ability to grow and improve. Share your own experiences and model a growth mindset by demonstrating your willingness to learn and adapt.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Create a “Wall of Growth” where your child can display their achievements and progress.
  • Develop a family mantra that reinforces a growth mindset, such as “We can learn anything!”
  • Watch movies or read books portraying characters overcoming challenges.
  • Use role-playing scenarios to help your child practice perseverance and problem-solving.

Create a supportive environment

Dr Ann Masten, a psychologist and researcher, emphasises the importance of a supportive environment, stating that “the presence of at least one supportive, caring, and competent adult in a child’s life is a critical protective factor for healthy development and well-being”.

Show your child empathy, be a good listener, and offer guidance without judgment. Celebrate their successes and let them know it’s okay to make mistakes. Remember, your love and support will make all the difference.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Schedule regular “family check-ins” to discuss feelings and experiences.
  • Create a “brag board” to display your child’s accomplishments and efforts.
  • Offer to participate in activities or projects your child is passionate about.
  • Share your own vulnerabilities and experiences to create a sense of connection.

Emphasise the importance of building good habits

Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” explains that “habits are the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day”.

Help your child identify specific habits they’d like to develop, break them down into manageable steps, and celebrate their progress along the way.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Develop a reward system or incentive for habit-building, like earning screen time or fun outings.
  • Create a “habit calendar” where your child can mark off each day they successfully practice a habit.
  • Set up a “habit buddy” system within the family, where members support each other’s goals.
  • Use technology, like habit-tracking apps or smartwatches, to help monitor progress.

Encourage social connections and communication

Dr Emma Seppala, a psychologist, states that “social connection is essential for our overall well-being, as it can improve our health, happiness, and even our longevity”.

Encourage your child to participate in activities and clubs that interest them, build friendships, and maintain open lines of communication with you and other family members.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Host themed gatherings or parties where your tween can invite friends.
  • Encourage your child to join a community service group or volunteer project.
  • Organise family game nights or outings to foster bonding and communication.
  • To spark discussions, provide conversation starters or “question cards” during mealtime.

Model the behaviours you want to see

Dr Michele Borba, a parenting expert and author, says, “One of the most powerful ways to influence our children’s behaviour is by modelling the behaviour we want to see”.

Show your child that you prioritise self-care, maintain a balanced lifestyle, and make healthy choices in your daily life. This will send a powerful message to your tween and help them understand the value of these habits.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Share your own successes and challenges with habit-building.
  • Create a family self-care routine, such as weekend nature walks or meditation sessions.
  • Set and work towards your personal goals, sharing your progress with your child.
  • Seek opportunities for shared learning, like taking a class or workshop together.

Encourage time management and organisation skills

Dr JoAnn Deak, a psychologist and educator, explains that “developing time management and organisation skills can lead to increased productivity, reduced stress, and a greater sense of control in a child’s life”.

Teach your tween to prioritise tasks, break projects down into smaller steps, and create a daily schedule or to-do list. You can also help them establish routines for chores, homework, and other responsibilities. By building these skills, your child will be better equipped to manage their time, reduce stress, and achieve their goals.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Use colour-coded supplies or labels to help with organisation.
  • Set up a designated workspace for your tween, customised to their preferences.
  • Use timers or alarms to help your child manage task time.
  • Create a visual representation of tasks, like a “chore wheel” or “homework ladder”.

Promote digital well-being 

Dr Jenny Radesky, a paediatrician and researcher, emphasises the importance of digital well-being: “Helping children develop a healthy relationship with technology involves setting limits, teaching digital citizenship, and encouraging offline activities and social interactions”.

Establish guidelines for screen time, discuss online safety, and encourage your tween to engage in hobbies, sports, and other non-digital activities. Additionally, model healthy technology habits yourself by setting boundaries around your screen time and being present during family interactions.

How to get your tween’s buy-in?

  • Organise a family “tech-free” day or evening each week.
  • Encourage your child to join a hobby or club that does not involve screens.
  • Use parental controls or apps to monitor and limit screen time.

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