Healthy Childhood Habits: Hardwired Early & Shape Adult Success
Updated: Mar 2, 2022
Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.
From schoolwork and physical fitness, to chores and personal responsibility – what we routinely practice from an early age can set the stage for future success.
Early habit formation & development
Child development research has connected good childhood habits and success in later life. Establishing good habits early on help children master important skills of self-sufficiency that can last a lifetime.
Healthy routines help provide psychological stability and a guide for kids as they change and grow. For children, good habits have also been shown to cultivate self-esteem.
When adopted early, healthy habits help children learn firsthand that they have control over their own simple yet powerful patterns that are essential for happiness and achievement. Habits are the significant link between small, repeat actions and big goals.
Parents as habit role models
Parents have the power and the responsibility to influence critical areas that can serve kids for life, be it educational, physical or financial.
The most effective way parents can do that is by setting a good example and by modeling our own healthy habits in these and other areas. As parents, we set the tone and control the home environment.
Habits in kids are hardwired early
A Brown University study (Pressman et al., 2014) looked at over 50,000 families and found that childhood habits are pretty much hardcoded by third grade.
The researchers learned that habits like chores and other routine responsibilities changed little after the age of 9, and remained consistent through high school.
Authors of The Learning Habit (2014) which included the same study’s researchers, investigated the connection between children who did not learn early responsibility and the enabling behaviors of parents.
Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed. – Maria Montessori
Kids learn by doing
Kids learn by doing things themselves. And like all learning processes, sometimes it’s not pretty.
The authors learned that for kids that did not establish early habits of chores and other responsibilities, it was often because parents actively hindered the process.
Parents stepped in when they believed their kid was doing something wrong or denied kids extra responsibilities under the assumption they couldn’t handle it or the process of teaching the responsibility wasn’t worth the bother.
Love and chores
The longest running study ever, the Harvard Grant Study, found that there are two essential things that people require to be happy and successful. The first: a work ethic.
The research shows that a key to developing this fundamental piece stems from pitching in with household chores during childhood.
It doesn’t have to be right. It just has to be done. Over and over and over. Establishing a work ethic takes time. It’s the repeat behavior that develops such habits and it’s a rare child indeed that will initiate this behavior on their own.
…and second key to happiness? Love.
Keystone healthy habits
Beyond work ethic, other habits developed during childhood can have wide-ranging impact.
Keystone habits are those that help instill and strengthen willpower. They make other healthy habits easier to begin and maintain.
For young and old, establishing a regular exercise routine is a principal keystone habit that has been shown to spur many other positive habits. Being physically active during childhood follows kids into adulthood. Same goes for the long-term value of early habits of healthy eating.
Research has found that the habit of regular family dinners is another of those super-habits. Studies link family dinners with a host of benefits for kids – from higher grades, greater self-confidence and better emotional control, to lower rates of substance abuse, depression and teen pregnancy.
Incentives can jump-start habits
Sometimes kids need a little extra motivation to start the habits that will benefit them long-term.
During the habit formation stage, carrots work. Sticks rarely do. A study by Loewenstein et al. (2014) showed that short-term incentives work in helping establish healthy eating habits in children – habits that continue even after inducements stop.
In short, the habits we form from childhood make no small difference, but rather they make all the difference. – Aristotle