Last week, after her yearly visit to the dentist, my daughter was determined to start brushing her teeth before bedtime because the doctor told her it is important. She was so driven that she got me to restart the habit, too. Sticking to it was a challenge – but my daughter had an idea she got from Ashdin Doctor’s book, The Book of Good Habits for Kids, which came out late last month: Use a habit tracker and if you are forced to break the habit for a day, make sure you restart the next day. As soon as it becomes a habit, you spend less time getting it done and it comes automatically.
A few weeks ago, President Obama said in an interview that his top advice for young people is to ‘get stuff done.’ It is getting harder to move forward and get the wheels rolling in a world that is getting more complex by the day. Habits are good ways to get us ahead in this game.
Why do we need a children’s book on good habits? According to a 2014 paper titled Examining the Interface of Family and Personal Traits, Media, and Academic Imperatives Using the Learning Habit Study by Robert M. Pressman and team at the Brown University, routines and habits are unlikely to vary after children turn 9. When you get your kids to work consistently on habits, you help them train their behaviours to become automatic and after a point, you enact them with very little effort.
Ashdin Doctor is a Mumbai-based habit coach and the founder of Awesome 180, a habit coaching programme. His latest book, The Book of Good Habits for Kids is a great way for parents to develop their children’s habits and connect it to their sense of identity.
The book kicks off with the story of a family that tries to develop better habits. Meera explains to her son, Nivaan, that he needs to get up early and get to school on time. “This habit will get difficult for you to change later,” she says. I love how she describes why we must cultivate good habits. “When you choose the right kind of habit, your life becomes easier. You are able to do more with your life, instead of being sad or unhappy.” Meera also gives an example of how Nivaan’s dad, Avi, was late to work because he was late dropping Nivaan to school and this nudges Nivaan and his sister Rati into working on a few habits to kickstart their journey.
I truly loved the chapter on how to develop the habit of enjoying time on our own. As for the chapter on how to cultivate patience, I believe that parents need to work on that, too! For all the adulting we claim to do, we still bristle when we stand in queues and honk away irritably in traffic jams.
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When the family in the book buys some mangoes, Nivaan wants to eat them right away, throwing a tantrum because they are not ripe and he has to wait. The book has direct and uncomplicated ways of explaining to kids why they need to be patient. In this case, he is told that there is no point to eating those mangoes if they are not ripe.
It’s not that our kids don’t want to pick up good habits. I believe my daughter is keener on them than I ever was at her age. But she struggles with the ‘how’ of it. How do I do it? How do I break it into steps? What examples do I follow? That’s what this book does – it tell us how to develop those habits, step by step.
There is one chapter in particular that I love, because it talks about the importance of habits in making and keeping friends, too. When Rati goes to summer camp, she is anxious because she knows nobody there; but Meera tells that to make friends, Rati must smile, share, and listen. Building and working on lifelong relationships are habits too.
Breaking the notion that habits are boring and mechanical, Doctor finds appealing ways to describe them to children. He tells them that eating healthy is about feeding the body and feeding the tongue. We need to nourish the body but we also need to enjoy different experiences, textures, and flavours. The chapter on gratitude did hit home, because my daughter’s recent plaintive complaints are all about how bad things only happen to her, and I am sure almost every parent can relate.
The mass appeal of James Clear’s bestselling book Atomic Habits (2018), shows us that we need habits to stay on track. With kids, this tends to become a collective effort: every night, my daughter packs her bag for the next day but later, I put it together in what I think should be the right way.
Reading Doctor’s book, I know that this is wrong. I worry about perfection, which is why I don’t let my daughter make her own mistakes. The school bag she puts together may be messy and she may forget something but it’s a first step she must take and by working on her habits – she can only get better at them.
Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.