Lifelong good habits

I recently came across an article on the World Economic Forum that just clicked in my mind. The article was all about the development of habits and how habits come from what we do, not what we want to do. The article focused on a paper published in “Psychological Review” that suggests that forming a habit is a matter of simply repeating a desired behavior until it becomes so ingrained in your neurological pathways that the behavior then becomes just part of who you are. 

Being a mother of five (now adult) children and working with babies for a living, means that my life is very routine. I sometimes feel like Bill Murray’s Phil probably would have in Groundhog Day. My job requires me to do the same thing over and over again. The circumstances may change, the babies/children may throw the occasional curve ball, but essentially the process is the same.  As I learn more about sleep and deepen my understanding of my own process, I can’t help but to face the mistakes we all make every day. I’m constantly reminded of how easy it is to fall into the traps that come with being overtired and desperate for five more minutes of sleep. I’m faced with just how difficult it can be on parents to repeat the necessary behaviors long enough for habits to develop.  It’s a constant balancing act, working on instilling the good habits we want these babies to have while still allowing ourselves to enjoy our every day lives knowing that we’ll miss these moments when they’re gone. Ultimately, it comes down to long term thinking and knowing that who we are, who your baby will be, comes down to the choices we make every day. 

Now, babies don’t make choices, that’s our job as parents. We’re responsible for making choices for them until they can begin making them for themselves. To me, that hits home because it exposes the immense responsibility that rests on our shoulders as parents. Think about it. You make choices, consciously or not, and the neurological pathways will form. From the moment they’re born, with every choice, you’re creating a blueprint of who your child will be. Scary right? It really shouldn’t be. Firstly, I will admit there are other factors that will play a role in your child’s development, their personality and yours will definitely factor in.  More importantly, think of the benefits of this. You have the chance to positively effect your child through your own consistent behavior. You have your child’s undivided attention for the first five-ish years of their life, the habits you can cultivate in that time are bound only by your ability to be consistent. 

It’s been well established that children learn just as much, if not more, from our actions than they do from our words, so I can’t help but to take this one step further. It’s not enough to just thoughtfully raise your baby. These two facts, that we can work to instill good habits and that children learn through actions as well as words, together should inspire us as parents to also work on ourselves. When deciding which habits, you’d like to instill in your child, think of the habits you have that you value or the ones you would change if you could. Major life events, like having a child, can often be the catalyst for change so use this opportunity to positively effect your own life. If you want your child to have healthy eating habits, start eating healthy yourself. If you want your child to be physically active, be active yourself. If you’d like them to have a healthy self-image, start learning to love and value yourself. By consciously repeating these new behaviors with yourself, you’ll be able to reinforce these behaviors with your child two-fold. It’ll be so ingrained in their neurological pathways, that by the time they’re able to begin making their own decisions these bad habits/behaviors will hold no sway. 

Change is difficult. It’s easy for someone to say “Adopt new habits. Be consistent.”. It’s much more difficult to actually do it, but aren’t they worth it? Aren’t you? It may not feel like it, but the first five years of a child’s life are some of the easiest parenting years. You don’t have to deal with teenage back talk or hormones. School friends and bullies haven’t yet made an appearance. The years are going to pass regardless, wouldn’t this time be better spent teaching your child to be the kind of person you’d like for them to be? It’s a challenge I believe we should all take upon ourselves. Live the lesson. Practice what you preach. Be the person you want your child to be. You want them to be kind, be kind. You want them to be compassionate, show them compassion. You want them to be strong and determined, show them how to be strong and show them determination. You are in the driver’s seat; you determine where this is going.