Guidelines to Help Children Acquire Healthy Habits

If you want to help children acquire healthy habits, it's important to be consistent and lead by example. Keep reading.
Guidelines to Help Children Acquire Healthy Habits
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 18 June, 2023

When you think of a habit, what do you imagine? Perhaps, something you repeat on a daily basis, almost without thinking about it. If this is your answer, you’re on the right track. However, it’s important to reflect on the importance of habits. They require the development of skills and an enormous amount of learning, far beyond the mere execution of an act. If you want to help your children acquire healthy habits, keep reading to discover some useful guidelines.

The importance of healthy habits

When you teach a habit to a child, you’re not only instilling a concrete action, such as brushing teeth, but you’re also transmitting a lot of values. For example, responsibility, commitment, and perseverance.

But habits also speak of self-care and well-being. Hence the importance that, beyond internalizing them and carrying them out on “autopilot”, we can also know what their meaning is and why we carry them out. This will help to maintain motivation. At the same time, habits promote autonomy because as they learn them, children feel capable of acting on their own.

How to help children acquire healthy habits?

A healthy habit requires organization and perseverance:

  • Organization: If you want your child to have the habit of doing some sport, such activity needs to be included not only in their own agenda but also in that of their parents. At an early age, the child will depend more on an adult to accompany them or bring them to the place of practice.
  • Perseverance: This has to do with maintaining the activity over time. Then, we’ll be able to notice the benefit. For example, if your child is lazy about brushing their teeth because they’re sleepy, you should help them notice the benefits of doing it: Avoiding cavities, reducing check-ups and visits to the dentist, and having better health, among others.
It’s important to understand that sometimes we won’t have 100% energy and motivation to carry out certain healthy habits, but it’s important to overcome that resistance.

Write down these guidelines to develop healthy habits in children

Some guidelines to help your child to have healthy habits are the following:

Have certain resources and an appropriate environment

To develop a healthy habit, it’s key to have the right place and the right elements. For example, if you want your child to have the habit of reading, you need to create a suitable atmosphere to carry out that activity. For example, have books within reach and enjoy a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. Or, if you want them to have a healthy diet, you should also offer vegetables and fruits as part of their diet.

Be a role model

Children learn a lot from their parents’ example, as they observe them all the time. Therefore, if you want your child to eat fruit every day, you can also start by being the “standard bearer” of this habit.

Take their opinion into account

There are many ways in which a habit can be made possible. Among them, it’s important to take your child’s opinion into account. Before imposing your own way, it’s best to ask your child if they can think of other ways to do it.

Spend time developing the habit with your child

The beginning of a habit is usually the hardest part, until it becomes part of the routine. At that point, its benefits will become more visible. So, in the beginning, you can do the activity together with your child.

A father and son walking a dog.
If you expect your child to walk their pet, you can go with them the first few times. They may even feel more comfortable if they do it in your company.

Try to be consistent

To get your child to acquire healthy habits, it’s important to have a consistent message over time. You should avoid messages that contradict one another, such as “today yes, tomorrow no”. When that happens, kids get confused and don’t know which cue to heed.

Be realistic with expectations

Especially if it’s a young child, it’s important to be patient when starting a habit. Also, be able to teach them step-by-step instructions in a simple way so that they understand what they should do.

Some habits are negotiable and others aren’t

In addition to the guidelines to help your children develop habits, many times you’ll encounter some resistance. Both when they’re around 2 or 3 years old and in adolescence, it’s possible that this “no” is more frequent. This is because it’s part of a stage of growth in which children challenge rules and authority. Although it’s nothing to worry about, it’s important to establish certain limits to avoid the development of bad habits.

However, as an adult, you may notice that sometimes you try to make your child carry out a habit that responds more to a personal interest or tradition. Here, it’s important to stop and think about whether or not it’s necessary and if your child enjoys doing it. For example, without realizing it, you may be pressuring your child to attend art classes just because you like them.

In any case, there are habits that it’s best for children to acquire, as they’re related to health and well-being. For example, a good diet, the practice of physical exercise, and sufficient rest, among others.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Oropeza-Bahena, Gisela, López-Sánchez, Jorge D., & Granados-Ramos, Dora E.. (2019). Hábitos de sueño, memoria y atención en niños escolares. Revista mexicana de neurociencia20(1), 42-49. Epub 04 de abril de 2022.
  • Yubero Jiménez, S., & Larrañaga Rubio, E. (2010). El valor de la lectura en relación con el comportamiento lector. Un estudio sobre los hábitos lectores y el estilo de vida en niños. Ocnos. Revista De Estudios Sobre Lectura, (6), 7-20.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.