How We Help Kids Form Happy Habits
We know from this post how all habits form. Essentially, neuroscience tells us that every habit, positive or negative, develops through a process called a Habit Formation Loop of trigger-action-reward. But how do we use this knowledge to teach kids how to form positive, healthy, happy habits?
Here are two steps to guide you:
1. CHOOSE specific actions
2. OPTIMIZE each part of the Habit Formation Loop around the chosen actions
CHOOSE actions that have been proven through research to support happiness.
For example, because we know that Being Thankful is one way to significantly boost happiness, practicing gratitude in a variety of creative ways will encourage a more positive outlook that, over time, will become a happy habit.
We've made this step way easier by creating the 9 happy-promoting actions we call happy habits. Each one is based on research in developmental science, positive psychology and time-tested principles.
OPTIMIZE the Habit Formation Loop around the action you’ve chosen.
Still using the happy habit of Being Thankful as an example, here are 3 tips to optimize the Habit Formation Loop:
Tip # 1 (trigger)
A habit can’t even begin to form without a trigger. A good trigger makes a new behaviour easy to start by attaching it to something we already do.
If we want to make Being Thankful a habit for our kids we might use the-last-thing-we-do-before-sleep as a trigger for sharing one thing we each felt thankful for that day (as described in Tip #2).
Tip # 2 (action)
Actions are things that we do and are most effective when they are clear and positive.
To make Being Thankful a habit kids need to know what to actually do. We've created the action of noticing the little things everyday and everywhere as a guide. This is a surprisingly simple yet effective way to become more present. Now we add clear and positive:
Clear: Pose one basic question to guide your sharing. What did you discover today that you hadn’t before? What surprised you in a good way today? What was something you loved?
Positive: Actions that are fun are just plain better than rules. If we want results, we need to find a way to make the actions fun for everyone. You share one thing, I'll share one thing.
Tip # 3 part 1 (reward, in the beginning)
A habit only sticks when we have a high emotional connection to it. Like, it makes us feel good.
In the beginning, connecting the action with a rewarding feeling leads us to crave the action. This means we don’t have to rely entirely on (that often elusive) willpower.
If Being Thankful feels like a special sharing time with a loved-one before bed, our bodies start to look forward to doing it and this reinforces the habit loop.
Tip # 3 part 2 (reward, over time)
A habit lasts through the repetition that comes from practicing. This is because repetition creates neural pathways within a part of our brain where the context of the habit is remembered and becomes hardwired.
Being Thankful each night will become a habit after we enjoy doing it consistently over time, so eventually we don't even need the external reward of sharing it with a loved one.
Choosing actions that are proven by research to promote health and happiness, AKA our happy habits, and applying the 3 ways to optimize the Habit Formation Loop, leads kids to become more Zentered in their daily lives.
Here are our 9 research-based happy habits, including free activities for kids.