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Habit Breakers for Kids

How to break bad habits before they break you!

Help! Our kids have developed some very bad habits. They never hang their jackets up, shoes are left out, toilet paper rolls not replaced, cabinet doors left open...the list goes on. I cannot pick up after them all day long. What do I do?

Hi, I’m Madia. I have eleven children and one of the greatest privileges of my life was to know Dr. Leila Denmark. She practiced pediatrics for over 75 years and was my mentor for 32 years.

I can hardly express how much she helped me, both with the children’s medical issues and family life challenges. I would love to share what she taught me with you.


The Mess Multiplied We moved to our current home twenty-one years ago, shortly before Susanna (baby number nine) was born. Now we had considerably more space and a wonderful backyard for the kids to play in. With more places to put people and things, it seemed like life would be easier and our home would stay neater. After our family began to settle in, I noticed something that was puzzling at first. The house was not neater. It was actually messier and more difficult to keep picked up. In our smaller, one level home, toys and paraphernalia had been corralled into a few rooms. Now that our home had more rooms and multiple levels, things were strewn over a much wider area. Our children had developed some bad habits, and those habits were more apparent and less manageable in a larger space. One person can create a lot of mess. Multiply that times numbers of children and. . you get the picture! If one child is tracking dirt into the kitchen, it can be somewhat aggravating. If six plus little kids are doing it, we have a real problem! It was great incentive to attack the bad habits. Identify the Habits I insisted that all the toys, especially those with multiple pieces, had to stay in one room. The children were allowed to keep one or two favorite ones in their bedrooms, especially if there was a favorite sleep toy, but the rest of them remained in the downstairs playroom/schoolroom. Then, I made a list of problem areas and bad habits. It contained everything from leaving out Legos… not hanging up bath towels… leaving out dishes… leaving bread bags open after making a sandwich. The list was a mile long! I realized that it was best to tackle a limited number of habits at one time. Don't try to take on the whole long list! Otherwise, things can become overwhelming for those trying to kick habits and Mom who is attempting to monitor the process. Its best to replace negative behavior with positive behavior. Emphasize the good habit. Instead of "Stop dropping your towels on the floor!", Mom could say, "Make sure you put your bath towel on the rack after your bath." Habit breakers to the Rescue Pick the habits which are top priority to work on (no more than seven) and post them on your refrigerator. The list could be as follows:

1) Hang jackets on hooks 2) Put shoes in the shoe basket 3) Close outside doors 4) Replace toilet paper rolls 5) Clear own dishes after meals 6) Hang bath towel on rack after shower 7) Answer with a "Yes Ma'am" *If a child cannot read, Mom can post a list of pictures that illustrate the habits

Next, line up jars on the top of your refrigerator. Designate one per child, with an extra one on the end. Put four dollars worth of quarters in each of the children's jars. (The last jar starts off empty.) We have also used nickels, sugar-free gum and candies.

Explain to the children the value of good habits and which habits are going to be targeted. Each time a good habit is forgotten, they will lose one quarter. That quarter is placed in the last jar. At the end of the week everyone gets the quarters left in their own jar (if any). The one who has the most quarters left in his jar gets all the extra quarters in the jar on the end.

This process should start over on Monday with new quarters.

Reward time should be an event, an opportunity to publish and commend the winner. It is a good time to express encouragement and reproof if needed..."Uh oh, your quarters are all gone! Next time be more careful and maybe you will get the bonus quarters."

Try to be very tuned in to the children's behavior and consistent about following through. Dr. Denmark always used to say, "Consistency should be written on every wall of your house."

When one set of good habits has been established, take out your master list and choose some more to work on. Some habits are harder to break than others. It can be helpful to post reminders in strategic locations.


From Madia:

"I have often tried to emphasize with our children that orderliness reflects the character of God. Also, picking up after one's self is a very practical way of showing personal responsibility, love and consideration of others. In contrast, an individual who expects others to pick up after him, lacks consideration.

“There is a balance. Mom should not be so obsessed with neatness at the expense of showing hospitality, making people feel at ease in her home, or having multiple children!”

From Dr. Denmark:

"A child that is reared in a jumble cannot think as clearly as a child who is reared in a home where there is order, cleanliness and a good system. The habit of putting the toys up, cleaning his feet before coming into the house, washing hands before handling food, hanging up clothes, keeping shoes polished, and keeping things in the right place, will determine to a large extent the kind of life the child will as an adult. We cannot stress enough the value of a well-kept house in the rearing of a child; the keeping of a house means the keeping of a life."

For more common sense tips on family life, read Dr. Denmark Said It!

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