Fairweather: Creatures of habit in the classroom

Tommy Fairweather, Teachable Moments

Recently I told a fifth grade boy who loves to tinker about Tony Fadell, who invented and sells “smart” thermostats. The boy’s dad was listening to the conversation and asked,” Is there an invention to get my son to pick up wet towels?”

I answered that he did not need an invention but needed a reward and a calendar. The father said he understood the reward, but he didn’t understand the calendar. I explained that to cement a habit, the habit has to be completed every day for 30 straight days. If the child completes the habit for 10 days and then slacks off for two days, the count starts over for 30 days.

Humans are really creatures of habit. Businesses know this fact and aim their commercials to entice us to try their products. They know if we use the products, we will hopefully get in the habit of using them. The aim is to get us hooked.

Why is it important for parents to help children develop good habits?

Much of what we do is detrimentally affected by habits. For example, children have become obese thanks to bad eating and exercising habits. First, they need to change the quantity and kinds of food they eat. Second, they need to change the kind of exercise they participate in daily. Parents must provide appropriate food and keep inappropriate food out of the house until the child has developed the habit of eating healthy food.

Parents should participate in providing family exercising opportunities until they become a habit. Biking, hiking and swimming quickly come to mind. Whether your children are obese or not, you should want them to eat healthy food and exercise daily. The quality and length of life of your children depend on you developing these habits.

Good habits can help your child socially. I noticed on Facebook that some of my friends are participating in a program to make compliments over 30 days. The point is to compliment people whom they admire or who have helped them. You don’t need a computer to do this. You explain to your child what a compliment is and then model it. Then task your children to make one compliment per day for 30 days in a row (keep a tally on a calendar). Using this process you can also teach your children other manners.

Further, you can teach your children habits that will help them emotionally. Parents can instruct their children to recognize their emotions, how they affect their behavior and how to control them. An excellent source book to help with this type of education is “Six Hats of Thinking” by Edward De Bono. This simple book will help you initiate a home program that will help children recognize what is affecting their thinking.

Good habits are important to learning as well. Reading is the foundation for good learning. Once children have learned the basics, they need to practice to get better. Parents should encourage reading by providing books or magazines in the areas of the child’s interests and set the expectation that the child will read at least 30 minutes a day, including the weekends.

For more information about habits, I recommend “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. It is not enough to just feed and clothe your children and send them to school. Your job must include teaching your child to become a physically healthy and mentally functioning adult.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher, who lives in Destin.She is currently president of the Tree House Montessori School.