Are you often putting away toys that your two-year old has left lying about or cleaning up the mess your child has made after a meal? Not to worry. Even if your little one plays a tearfully angry tug- of- war over a favorite toy – all you need to do is distract the young one into helping you. If cleaning away is made into a fun game, you will soon have an able assistant whose sole intent will be to put away stuff that is lying around. It’s another matter that it may take a while for the child to master the knack but once you show how it’s done, the child learns through observation.
According to Dr. Leonard H. Epstein of the University of Buffalo, ‘Parents are very important in terms of arranging an environment and setting a model for healthy or unhealthy behavior.’ So if you thought it was only your genes that get passed on, think again. Your habits, good or bad, get passed on too. And since habits once formed are hard to break, it is never too early to start teaching them the right ones. So by getting your little one to help clean up, you are in actual fact teaching the child how to inculcate good habits in the ‘do as you observe me doing’ mode.
But you need to start early. Babies are born curious and by the time they are two or three years old, their curiosity will know no bounds. So every ‘what is that and why is it’ needs to be met with patience and tolerance. It is also the time when habits begin to form. Like a sponge the child’s mind – ripe for new ideas – is ready to learn, absorb and retain all that is thrown at it. And at five and six years of age, the foundation would have been laid with the child’s own individual personality coming through. So we need to nurture them with love and affection so that they may grow up to be responsible adults with the right kind of values and habits.
1) Be good role models: Teach by example. How you communicate with people around you or how you handle situations, is what your child will see and absorb. So whenever you interact with anyone, be conscious. What words and the tone you use are important, because invariably your child will take the cues on how to communicate from that. The way you act and behave will rub off on your child as well and that is how it will learn how to speak and behave with others. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is not just about learning words, but includes an entire value system for a growing child.
2) Demonstrate: Whether it’s washing hands, brushing teeth or bathing clean, show your child what needs to be done. Make hygiene a fun thing. A game that the child will want to emulate till it becomes a habit. They love watching and imitating the adults.
3) Establish a routine: If bed time routine includes a bath and story session, then it needs to be followed regularly every evening without fail. Children respond well to routines. It helps them to fix things in their minds and when they know what comes when, it soon becomes a habit that they can look forward to.
4) Inter-personal relations: A child’s family – siblings, grand-parents, parents – in different ways plays an important role in the overall development of the child. It helps in introducing the child to good manners, courtesy etc. Playing ludo with you or badminton with siblings; reading or story- telling session with grandparents or playing house-house or doctor- patient with other kids their age are all great learning experiences for your little one. Even learning to play by themselves makes for a good habit. All of which teach them how to adapt to various scenarios, rules and people. It kicks in spirited rivalry, excites their creative instincts, fertilizes their imagination and allows them to learn the art of give and take and shared interests apart from giving them self-confidence. It also provides for a stable happy social environment where proper social habits can be picked up without excessive supervision which is stifling for any child.
5) Eat right: What your child eats is extremely important for all-round development. A pizza a day may not keep the doctor away but an apple a day might. So choose wisely. While indulging the child once in a while is alright; sugary, fried food, chocolates and colas should not be part of their regular diet. They do more harm than good in very young children. They suppress child’s appetite, have insufficient nutrition and pose a risk of obesity. So avoid stocking such items at home. Explain to them why certain types of outside food are bad for health while home-made pizza, noodles etc. are tastier and healthier. Starting the day with a good healthy breakfast keeps the child fit and energetic, as does dining together as a family make for some fun bonding time.
6) Most importantly how do you teach your little one the values you would like your youngster to imbibe? So reward honesty if your child admits to doing something wrong, applaud effort especially when your little one has really tried hard to maybe run a race and not come out first, and encourage decency when your child unselfishly gives up perhaps a very loved toy to another. Timely appreciation helps good values become character defining habits.
Thus it is never too early to start exposing your little one to good habits so that these habits soon become second nature to them. A well-mannered, healthy child is a well- balanced happy adult.