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Ready! Cue! Action! - Effortlessly Change Children's Habits

As a parent, we often say the following:

  • Stop it! That is a bad habit!

  • Keep doing it for 47 days. Then you will obtain the good habit!

Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken - Warren Buffett

We understand the importance of forming good habits because habit governs more than 80% of our daily activities. Do children understand that?

No, children do not understand; again, children do not understand. Period.


If children have bad habits, don’t blame them, blame us. Blame the adults who have control over the children’s environment but do not put effort into providing good cues for the encouragement of good habits. The cues can be many things in the house: a painting from a famous painter, classical music in the morning, the people walking around in the house, topics being discussed at the dinner table, certain actions being seen often in the house, and more. They are all examples of cues in the children’s environment; a cue is seen and heard anywhere in the environment.

It's hard to change habits, but a gentle push can move us in the right direction. This episode, TED speakers offer deceptively simple "nudges" for managing our kids, our health, and our aspirations. - Ted Radio Hour: Nudge

According to Ted Radio Hour: Nudge, the easiest way to influence people’s behavior is to make the action seem seamless and the most reasonable to do at the moment.

For example:

  • Instead of saying, “Do not touch that!” parents can simply hide the items out of children’s sight.

  • Instead of telling children to read a business journal, parents can hang portraits of famous business people in the home, if you want them to become business people.

  • Instead of telling how much money you make from construction, parents can tell interesting stories about construction, if you want them to become a civil engineer.

  • On top of taking them to music concerts, parents can sing with them and have a piano at the center of the house, if you want them to become a musician.

Yes, it is that simple. However, parents need to take their time and take action to do so.

External cues -- anything from a glimpse of powder that looks like cocaine or the jingle of an ice cream truck -- can trigger a relapse or binge eating," said Jocelyn M. Richard, a Johns Hopkins University post-doctoral fellow in psychological and brain sciences and the report's lead author. "Our findings show where in the brain this connection between environmental stimuli and the seeking of food or drugs is occurring. - Daily Science | Brain's trigger for binge behavior

I have visited many clients to teach the importance of critical thinking and problem solving, and both are just habits of thinking. The truth is, the moment I walk into a house, I have an accurate expectation of the children’s habits based on the environment of the household. Habit, by definition, is an automatic reaction to a particular situation. An automatic behavior reflects according to the situation — from the environment.

See the diagram below to see how an environment affects plants in their growth.

We all understand this. You feed plants nutrients and plants grow taller.

Likewise with humans, we feed children positive thinking and inspiration. Children will be inspired and acquire good attitudes. Cues are the food for our brain. What do you want to feed your children? Children’s brains are powerful, and they are like sponges absorbing anything they see, hear, or feel. Let’s be responsible caretakers and provide our children the best cues with more actions instead of talking. Change the environment for them.

See the infographic below to see how you can change children’s habits and behavior effortlessly; it’s useful for changing yours as well.



Michael is an independent college counselor, counseling 8th- through 12th-grade and California Community College students. He assists students to identify strengths and weaknesses, design education paths, teach study skills, plan class selection and extra-curriculum, prepare for SAT/ACT, and college admission. Michael earned a bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from UC Berkeley and a master's degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University.

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