Awesome You Be


Cartoon of child reading War and Peace Kick Off Eight Great Habits in Your Children

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Great habits set your children up to be healthy, happy, creative and capable for life. Great habits can be applied across a range of disciplines and actions. Great habits enable your children to thrive and learn and grow into terrific adults. In short, great habits are awesome. Let's look at some of them.

1. Reading

From their first days at home, my ex-wife or I read to our children daily. We always read them a bedtime story − until they reached their early teens and formed the habit of reading in bed before going to sleep. At that point, although they had set bedtimes, they were allowed to read in bed if they could not sleep.

They grew up with books around them and books have always been frequent gifts in my family.

The boys go to Flemish schools and learned to read in Dutch. However, I am a native English speaker and the boys grew up with both languages (together with some Thai and some French). So, not long after learning how to read in Dutch, they taught themselves to read in English.

I love reading and writing. So, I may be prejudiced, but I believe it is the greatest habit I have instilled in them: a love of reading.

Reading does not just bring pleasure. It also brings knowledge and insight. It passes the time on aeroplane flights and train rides. It keeps the mind occupied in waiting rooms. It provides talking points with new friends. It enables one to find answers to all questions. And it inspires one to write well as well.

2. Learning How to Work Things Out Themselves

The next time your child is struggling to accomplish a task, or has started a task in the wrong way, resist the urge to help her out. Consciously close your mouth and sit on your hands if need be. Unless the child is endangering herself, endangering someone else or potentially about to damage something, let her work out herself how to do the task. If she fails, makes a mess or breaks something minor, don't worry. Let her work out herself what went wrong and try again.

Life requires working out how to do all kinds of things. If you create in your child the habit of working things out herself, you enable her to analyse all kinds of problems, compare those problems to similar situations she has faced in the past and empower her to devise and test a hypothesis for working out the problem.

Equally importantly, if her first try at solving the problem does not work, she will learn from it and try again with minimal frustration. That's because that is how she learned to work things out: trial and error.

In short, when you give your child the habit of working things out herself you enable her to tap into their creativity and innovate.

3. Coping with Boredom

Many parents these days fill their children's schedules with after school and weekend activities such as sports, music lessons, scouting, art lessons and more. This is great, but if parents overdo it, they do not allow their children to become bored. And being bored from time to time is actually a good thing for kids.

Children who have unstructured free time more often become bored than those with full schedules. As a result, the free-timers learn to work out ways to alleviate or a least cope with the boredom. They may play games alone or with siblings or with friends. They may pick up a books and read them. They may draw or jump on a trampoline or run around or pretend they are doing grand things. They may simply become happily lost in their imaginations.

Learning to cope with boredom and entertain himself helps your  child develop his creative mind and solve problems. Coping with boredom introduces your child to new things and new thinking. In short, being able to cope with boredom is a powerful ability and one that is remarkably easy to provide to your child.

Of course, this does not mean you should abandon your child or cancel all the courses and groups you have signed him up to. Just do not fill up his entire waking day with structured activities. Make sure that every day he has some unstructured time to be bored.

4. Healthy Eating

I am lucky in that my mother was particularly aware of nutrition and largely cooked meals from scratch when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. The result was that I ate healthy, home cooked meals most of the time, I was not allowed to eat too many sweets and there was little junk food in the house. She gave me the habit of healthy eating.

Unfortunately, she did not teach me to cook. So, when I was in university and on my own, I realised that if I wanted the kind of good, home-cooked meals I grew up with, I would have to learn how to cook myself. Fortunately, I like good food and was also given the habit of working things out myself. So, through trial and error and collaborating with friends, I learned to cook.

Now, in my 50s, I am as thin as I was in university, have good health and lots of energy. I eat what I like and as much as I like because I like healthy food and I do not much like sweets or highly fatty foods.

I have been raising my sons the same way. I believe when they get to my age, they too will be thin, healthy and full of energy. They will be able to enjoy food without worrying about food.

5. Not Thinking in Stereotypes

Some years ago, I took my then four year old son to the toy shop to buy a gift for a girl's birthday party. He picked up a Bob the Builder forklift truck and said he thought the girl would like it. I was about to say, "but that's a boy's toy. Let's look for a girl's toy."

Before the words came out, I realised two things. Firstly, I was reinforcing the sort of stereotypes I think we should all question. Secondly, my son knew the girl better than me and so was more likely than I was to choose a present she would like.

So, instead,  I simply said, "Do you think she'd like that?"

He said, "Yes."

So, I said, "Great! Let's get it."

Because we as parents have been brought up with stereotypes, we often do not recognise when our actions reinforce those stereotypes. But when we catch ourselves telling a child not to do something because it is an activity for the opposite sex or younger children or whatever, we need to stop and check ourselves.

We also need to check ourselves when we talk about people from other cultures and of other sexual orientations.

The more you can raise your children to think outside of stereotypes, the more you allow them to embrace diversity, be themselves and learn.

6. Not Relying on Cars

A friend once told me that the most polluted spots in Belgium tend to be around schools. I don't know if that's true or not, but it could well be. At the start of school every morning, parents drive to school and drop their kids off. In the late afternoon, they drive back and fetch the kids − in spite of usually living within a kilometer or two from the school. Often, cars with their engines running sit in front of schools spewing out exhaust while parents wait for parking spaces or their kids.

This is bad in three ways. Firstly, it is bad for the environment. Secondly, it is bad for children to be going to school in a light haze of exhaust fumes. Thirdly, it tells kids that the car is the only real form of transportation which, in turn, makes your child reliant upon you to drive her everywhere she wants to go when she is young and equally reliant on cars when she gets older.

When my boys were in primary school (3.3 km from home), they had a daily choice: ride bicycles or ride the school bus. I would not drive them unless there was good reason. I did not want to add to the pollution and I wanted my boys to learn that public transportation, bicycles and feet were viable forms of transportation, especially for something nearby. I wanted them to learn how to bicycle safely on public roads and I wanted them to have a sense that they could get places like after school activities and friends' houses on their own.

When they were younger, of course, I bicycled with them. I enjoyed the exercise and the opportunity to chat with their teachers. The boys gained independence as well as discovering the pleasure of bicycling home with friends. And the area around their primary school was a little less polluted thanks to us. As they grew older, the cycled themselves. In middle school (12 km away) they take the public bus to school without problem.

We'll have to wait and see how this affects the boys adulthood. When I was in school, I basically had the same choices: walk, bicycle or, when the school was further away, take a school bus. And today a bicycle is my preferred form or transportation for journeys under 15-20 km. But, it was normal in my day for kids to get to school on their own and most of my generation seems to be reliant on cars even for short journeys.

7. Accepting Feelings

"Big boys don't cry."

"Don't be such a baby."

"You've got to learn to control yourself."

These are the kinds of messages many parents still tell their kids all the time. Unfortunately, what these messages often communicate is: "your emotions are not okay." And that message is really not okay.

Children are emotional human beings. Teaching them that certain emotions are bad and to repress their emotions is not a good for them. They will learn to internalise their emotions to seem more under control. But those emotions still effect them and, if they feel it is not okay to have strong emotions, that will only make them feel worse.

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as that. If an older child breaks down and cries at school, for example, his classmates might tease him about it, which will only make matters worse. If this is an issue in your family, you can recommend that your sensitive older child excuses himself to visit the toilet if he feels overwhelmed by emotion. There he can let his tears flow in the privacy of a cubical. It's not ideal, but may be more bearable than being laughed at by other kids during an emotional outburst.

And, by all means, let the child know that when he is at home and safe with family, he can and should let those emotions out.

8. Politeness

When my boys were young and wanted anything from me, they had to say "please". When they were given something, they were expected to say, "thank you". If they did something that adversely affected someone else, they learned to say, "sorry". They have been taught not to interrupt others who are talking, to respect people and more.

This required a lot of work on my part, but it also lead to lots of appreciative comments from adults about how well mannered my kids were − and still are. When the lads were young, cabin crew in airlines (we are a family that flies more often than most) invariably complimented my boys for their behaviour and me for their manners.

It is my feeling that good manners, respect for others and appreciation are less common now than when I was young. I know some people believe that being well mannered is somehow less honest than being rude − but when I ask such people why, they are lost for an answer.

In fact, if you think about the most charming people you know, they will invariably have good manners, demonstrate respect and be appreciative. And charm will get your child far. So, instill in your child politeness, respect and appreciation.

Awesome Kids

If you can instill these habits in your kids and combine them with afterschool activities they enjoy, you are giving your kids the raw material they need to grow into awesome, competent, healthy, creative adults.

What more could you ask for?

What About You?

Have I missed anything? Are their habits you have established in your children? If so, I would love to know about them! Share them with me.


And share this article with your friends who have children. The more kids grow up with great habits, the better their social world will be!


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