Great habits to teach your preschooler

by | Jun 28, 2020

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Modern parents are bombarded with advice, an infinite, often conflicting list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ that make it difficult to find the truth among all the noise. One such topic of parental debate, is how your child should behave and the habits they demonstrate, writes Yashmitha Padayachee.

They say it takes it takes up to two months of repetitive behaviour to form a habit. Whoever ‘they’ are, didn’t have to get a toddler to brush their teeth every night or tidy their room.

Here’s a rather small but doable list of habits we should all try to instil in our children, and a few tips on how to get there.

Personal Hygiene

From brushing teeth, washing hands and wiping their nose, to being more mindful of their body cleanliness, personal hygiene habits are a must. These habits are a necessary and important way to prevent the unwanted spread of illness and infection. Hand washing, dental care, correct and timeous use of the toilet and regular bathing are all important factors of personal hygiene and can be made fun with these fun guidelines:

  • Pick a theme song – brushing or bathing to a fun sing-a-long song is a perfect way to get them on board with what can sometimes be a nightmarish task.
  • Do it with them – until it becomes a well-formed habit, wash hands or brush teeth together.
  • Practice makes perfect – especially if we’re talking teaching your child to clean themselves after using the toilet.
  • Rewards – while opinion exists that this is an unnecessary form of bribery, who doesn’t love a good old rewards card?


Manners maketh the man

Being polite never goes out of fashion, but this can become a complex habit to teach. With the need to raise independent, strong-minded, critical thinkers, manners and general social politeness can sometimes take a knock.

It is important to teach our little ones the difference between being submissive and obedient. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ should be taught from as early an age as possible. Enter the ‘complex’ part: obligatory hugging or any form of awkward interaction, shouldn’t be forced when a polite greeting would suffice.

The habit of politeness should be closely monitored by the parent and should create clear boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. Children can develop submissive tendencies that could have long-term consequences.

Getting a preschooler to share or admit when they are at fault is another ball game altogether, and let’s face it – adults don’t have that habit pegged yet! Once again, leading by example is the best way to teach your child good manners.

Some points to keep in mind:

  • When sharing time with a favourite toy, digital device or even the swing, stick to small tangible amounts of time. For a toddler 30 minutes is an eternity. A five-minute rotational time gets them used to the idea of sharing, without the never-ending wait.
  • Apologise when you’ve slipped up – if we are completely honest there are quite a few moments where we as parents mess up. Apologise to your kids in a respectful and meaningful way, so they learn that while ‘sorry’ might be the hardest word to say, it is also a great tool for forgiveness and accountability.
  • Keep calm. This may be easier said than done, but when we react emotionally to a child’s behaviour we can be guilty of the bad habit we want them to avoid.


Organisational skills 101

Habitual order and neatness will help foster a focused and goal-orientated mind. Getting kids into the habit of packing away and keeping their belongings in check is no easy task, and can take longer.

  • Containers with a picture of what should be inside makes tidying up methodical and easy. From stationery and dolls, to building bricks and clothes.
  • Ask for help packing away groceries and laundry.


Fun in the sun

Physical activity of some form should be encouraged, to keep fit and help children decompress from the heaviness of being a 21st century toddler. A great way to make this a habit, is turning it into a family affair.

While this can be hard to work into busy schedules, a quick visit to the local park to kick around a ball or ride a bike is quite doable, even if only once a week. Incorporating the whole family can also help solidify another good habit and that is putting an emphasis on the family unit, and spending quality time with those near and dear to you.

You may at first receive groans of ‘I want to watch TV’, or ‘I want to play on my tablet,’ but in the long run an appreciation of playing outdoors is a timeless habit. To reiterate the importance of family, you should make a habit of putting your phone away when your child wants to speak to you and try to carve out a few minutes to catch up with them. Nods and smiles while they tell you the same story for the 18th time is what it’s all about.

There are loads of good habits to foster and bad ones to avoid, and there’s time to experience them all. Don’t expect immediate results, but do persevere.

Other vital habits to encourage and cultivate, include:

Safety – Safety habits such as looking both ways before crossing a road, not running off or hiding in a shopping centre, stranger danger and even learning your contact details are essential. Making safe choices is a habit that will last a lifetime and give you a smidge more peace of mind in the later years.

Learning – Develop a love for information, facts and reading. Watch the Discovery channel, visit museums and read together.

Rest – As adults we often perform till we burn out, so let’s try to nurture a generation that knows when to take a break and recharge.

Best foot forward – Knowing that true greatness lies in doing your best, not in being the best, is another golden nugget. You get out what you put in is a habit and a mindset to live by.

It is important to keep in mind the adage “everything in moderation”. While these and many other good habits are important to form, the last thing you want to do is over-emphasise these behaviours and cause an equal but opposite habit to form instead.

The key is to keep the learning light and fun but meaningful, and remember, a few kind words and a little encouragement go a long way.