Want to teach your child to make new habits this year? Use a habit calendar and the simple yet powerful habit chain method to build strong habits- the fun way!
If you struggle to teach your kids about making new good habits (or breaking away from the not so good ones!), and more importantly about making new habits stick, then in today’s post I will share how we have been using a simple habit calendar to make and keep our new habits stick by daily tracking.
The best part, it’s super fun with built in accountability so you don’t have to rely on your motivation or discipline to stay on track for this activity (your kids will do that for you!)!
(Why track a new habit at all?
I talk more about why habit tracking works <– in this post.)
Now, before we dive into the how-tos, do take a look at what you will need for this method- habit calendars.
There are 30 designs that I made for kids of all kinds of tastes.
Use these with our habit tracker calendar method below to live a more productive, fun, and healthy life with your kids as your accountability buds this year.
Now let’s dive into how we make new habits stick with the help of daily tracking.
Step 1. Choose the right habit calendar for your child
The first step is finding a good calendar to track your habit on.
Here are a few indicators of what a perfect calendar for habit tracking may be:
- Your child loves the design and wants to use it. Don’t take this point lightly. This one can make all the difference between coming back to the calendar, when the child’s connection with their habit chain hasn’t formed yet, or not.
A regular black and white calendar spread would never attract my son as much as one with his favorite animals would. This is why I made 30 designs, from mermaids, robots, dinos, animals and so much more for 2020, and 2021.
- The design, on the other hand, doesn’t take too much attention away from the most important thing on the calendar- the habit chain (more on that below). Instead, it highlights your growth. Our kids’ calendars are perfect for habit tracking with minimal yet fun designs and large calendar cells for putting a big fat cross on your date.
- It is easy to use, i.e. I find physical calendars work best with their nagging presence in the room because they’re there in your face, unlike digital calendars, which are, when out of sight, out of mind. This makes it easier to continue to remember our daily habit task.
Also, another added benefit of using physical calendars is there are studies based on how writing by hand ties our goals tighter into our mind which gives the body signals for implementation.
- You could use a blank calendar or habit tracker too but I find it immensely useful that our habit tracker calendar is simply a regular calendar with dates.
When I see the fixed immovable dates, which will stay there whether we make our daily progress or not, then the fear of missing out on a day that won’t come back stresses me.
On the other hand, blank trackers don’t have fixed immovable days. They can be started any day, so there is space for procrastination and ‘I will start later‘. Because of this alone, we make sure to take out time for our habit no matter what. (Super fun tips on how to do that below!)
- By using a dated calendar, kids can also begin to learn basic calendar reading skills. It helps us revise the concept of dates, days, months, and the use of yesterday/today/ tomorrow/day after, etc using a real-life experience.
Step 2. Pick your KEYSTONE habit
Next, you need to pick the keystone habit you will track. A keystone habit is just like it sounds, the central stone in an architectural structure that holds the rest of the stones in place.
And just like that, your keystone habit is one that holds many areas of life together.
So you will not just randomly pick up any good habit. You will pick a keystone habit that benefits you in more than one way. It should have a ripple effect extending into more than one area of life.
Here’s our example:
My son has been behind in his academics #covid… so this year instead of uber focusing on a ton of concepts, I set a goal of teaching him how to read.
For us, reading everyday became a keystone habit.
Because, like a keystone, it could hold more than a few areas of our life together:
- He’s learning the most important skill he’ll need in his education, and he’s catching up with his grade-level reading skills because of consistency.
- Down the road, this will help him learn anything else he ever struggles with. Every solution will be just a read away.
- We are compelled to spend one on one time together where he has 100% of my attention
- He gets to read storybooks- a very beneficial activity for kids on its own and a whole topic for another day. We were frequently neglecting storybooks before we started with this habit.
- (I didn’t intend or wish this, but reading books has been a lifesaver activity during the lockdown.)
I hope you get the point about how a keystone habit is more beneficial than a regular good habit.
Remember, one-off good habits are good too- when you have lots of time. But we as busy moms, on the other hand, want keystone habits that, like dominos have far-reaching effects of minimal actions and inputs.
Here’s another example.
- For me as a mom, brushing my hair every day will not be a keystone habit, even though it’s a good thing to do. Whereas getting on the treadmill will be my keystone habit,
- it will help me stay healthy,
- eat better (coz no one in their sane mind runs themselves till they’re blue on a treadmill only to get off and stuff a mouthful of doughnut in, lol)
- and when I workout, I feel happy,
- when I feel happy and also start losing weight,
- and then I also start to dress up better…
See how the benefits of a keystone habit flow further into more than one area of your life?
So, put your best focus on picking the right habit!
Step 3. Stack it with a current routine task
Habit stacking is a science-backed productivity method. It means you stack or tie your new habit with a current habit. Meaning, you set an intention to do the new habit everyday right after doing the routine task (a current strong habit).
The idea behind this method is:
It is easier to set habits in your mind than to actually remember to do them when the time comes. One of the many important reasons why it is so is because new habits can be easily forgotten or thrown back in the craziness of a day when every other pressing demand seems more important.
So we tie new habits with old no brainer daily tasks.
For example, we set an intention to tie my son’s daily reading habit (his keystone habit) with breakfast.
Everyday after breakfast we read.
Initially, he would test my commitment to this plan of mine but as i held the boundry, my son has, over time, showed less and less resistance to it. To the point that now he looks forward to what we do after breakfast everyday- read.
Step 4. Make it fun- the smart way!
I have witnessed this innumerable times and i can’t fight it that my sons shows the kind of energy that i bring to an activity.
Keeping this in kind, we made our habit tracking into a (healthy!) competition. We track who has done their task for the day without any breaks.
Seeing the other person do work build extra accountability to push past our moods and just do the work.
My son wants more stars and i don’t want to set a bad example for him so we both follow through and even better- indirectly hold each other’s feet to the fire.
Another point i want to highlight is to very explicitely, and i mean, veeerrry, explain the whole thing that you’re doing here together.
Some things to focus on would be:
- What are these calendars for and what each cell represents (one day)
- what we will do everyday (our keystone habits)
- When (e.g. after breakfast- habit stack)
- How we will track our daily progress
- What do the daily crosses/sticker mean
- How many stickers go on the calendar per day
- What a blank space means
- What does a long chain/ or streak of stickers or crosses mean
- (Any reward we get for completing one month’s habit chain?)
Step 5. Build mini anchors to ground the habit
Building mini anchors to ground a new habit means, just like a boat, a new habit can easily drift away. So we need strong anchors to help a habit stay in place.
Habit anchors ate essentially things that make your habit stick. The more anchors we have had, the easier it became for us to follow through on our daily habit task.
Let me explain with an expample.
Taking our own example of reading everyday. We set various arrangememts in our physical setting that
- remind us of the new habit we’re building,
- help us focus on it as a top priority
- give us a nudge to continue progress,
- or motivate us with a potential reward/punishment.
For us that looks like:
- Remembering: we placed the habit calendar right across my son’s seat at the dining table where he can see and remember the habit he’s building. This way he (and I!) know that others our looking at our progress everyday too. So we both do the work.
- Focusing: for not losing our focus from our keystone habit as our top priority, we have placed my son’s reading book close to the dining table. Since we stacked reading habit with breakfast (remember point x?) we know we can’t leave the table and do anything else unless he has read his pages for the day.
- Nudging to continue: the daily sticker series is so addictive my son doesn’t want to miss any day.
- Motivation: placing my habit calendar right next to my son’s (which otherwise should have been in my study or in my planner) is a seemingly small act but it helps him see at a quick glance who is winning (as I mentioned that we are competing against each other to complete the entire month’s task!).
Pro tip: think of going beyond visual anchors. I regularly question or state as a positive affirmation things that will drill his habit deep into his kind.
For example, i sneak verbal reminders and affirmations about our habit frequently throught the day. Saying things like,
-oh you want to collect leaves today? Then let’s finish breakfast, and then you know we read after that. Then we can clean up and go outside.
-So what are we doing after breakfast and reading today?
-Wanna show grandma how many star stickers you’ve collected for reading everyday? Tell her you didn’t even miss one day this month she’ll be so amazed!
-Who is winning on the calendar so far?
If you struggle to come up with anchors, you can share your keystone habit in the comments and lets brain storm on coming up with some for you together.
remember, you can use as many modalities as possible to create your habit anchors. Visual, verbal, physical movement, audio, etc.. get as creative as you can be.
Step 6. Start On the Right Foot
I want to repeat this point separately. Before you begin something like this, be very explicit in sharing with your child what you’re doing. I often thought my son is too young to understand this.
But that was disproved in two ways
- Kids learn as they do, for that they have to start doing from a place of not knowing and keep at it till they get it
- Kids don’t need to understand everything about a calendar at this stage. Maybe they cant read days and dates. Maybe they don’t even understand fully well what yesterday is. no problem.
Explain what you will do every day. If you think it is possible, guide your child through choosing a good habit they will track (or give an option to choose between two!). This will also make them feel in charge and more responsible.
Start A Habit Calendar With Your Kids
No matter what your child to start or stop doing as a habit, scientific discoveries support endless possibilities and hope for you and me. So now that you know how to use a habit calendar to build great habits with your kids, go ahead, pick your favorite calendar, determine the keystone habit you need to work on with your child, tie or stack it with a current habit, bring out your creativity to make it fun, build mini anchors to remove any potential blocks that may potentially hinder you from doing your daily habit task, then explain the whole daily habit tracking game + rules and begin tracking. All you have to do it, don’t break the chain.
Keep Reading: Teaching Calendar Activities To Kids