#1: Help them Decide their Focus

Written by Scott Todnem

We all want certain things in life for our young people. We want to help them make and achieve their goals and thrive while exploring their many interests and curiosities. So how do we help them get there? What tools of the trade can we share with them that will help them find success? Here are three quick tips to help your young person develop a healthy habit.

First things first

What does your young person want to do? Do they want to develop healthy habits of physical activity? Is hanging out with friends more of their priority? Do they want to consider reading a print copy of a book instead of looking at a bright screen before bedtime?

Although we can suggest things that we think might interest or help our young people, only they can truly decide what motivates them enough to create a new healthy habit for themselves. It can be the consequence of a bad habit or the result of forming a good habit that gives them the intrinsic motivation for change. As long as their focus will bring about a positive outcome in their life, there are so many possibilities of what habit(s) they may want to continue with and which ones they would like to begin or stop.

Some common examples of desirable habits your young person may be interested in pursuing are: developing a certain skill in a sport, improving in a musical instrument, getting better at a creative outlet (e.g., writing, drawing, or technology), and of course keeping in touch with friends and family. Help them learn to examine their life as a triangle of physical, mental, and social well-being. They can make a decision about new habits or old habits based on if one of these areas are lacking — and why that might be.

Nothing says that a new focus needs to be permanent, so remind them not to worry that they have made a wrong choice. They can reassess their focus points throughout the year to see if their priorities still align with their life goals. A great time for this is the first of the month. On the first of every month, help or remind them to do a personal check-in with themselves. They can ask themselves questions like, “Are my behaviors truly driving me towards the life I want to live?” and “Have any of my goals or aspirations changed?”

Also, keep in mind that while it’s true that your young person can have multiple new habits going at the same time, it really doesn’t need to be a huge life shift all at once. In fact, that leads us to tip number two.

Tip #2: Help them Start Small

Adults and kids alike have all heard the term “baby steps.” Well, it’s generally great advice for habits, and that includes for your young person too. Sure, some people can go “all in” and make a huge change in just one day or one week — but that’s rare. This can overwhelm our young people and discourage them before they even get started. Generally, things happen by effecting a major change, but in a minor way. Let your young person know that small positive steps will get them there and they have your full support all the way, no matter how long it takes.

  • For example, if they are trying to be more organized, suggest to them to start by just making the bed every morning.
  • Maybe your young person wants to increase the amount of exercise they get each day. Remind them that by just putting on their shoes they are already taking steps towards their goal.
  • Perhaps they feel like they need to cut back on their screen time. A good start could be by opening the blinds to let the sunshine in.

Keep pointing out to your young person that it all happens with a small start. Things like filling their water bottle, putting their book on their bed stand, writing a social event on the calendar, or picking up and holding their musical instrument are all great starts to bigger goals. These small things lead to the next step, which leads to the next step, and so on and so on. Helping them remember the big picture and supporting them through the small steps it takes to get there can also make a huge impact on their success and whether their journey to their goal is a positive one.

Tip #3: Help them Keep it Going

This tip is super obvious and it should go without saying, but a habit is only a habit if you repeat the activity. Sometimes our young people think that because they did something for a few weeks they have somehow “finished” or “accomplished” their goal or habit. And while small, short-term goals can feel like that, when we look at the overall bigger picture we need to remind them to keep those habits up to keep moving towards their positive lifetime goals.

It often helps to explain it to them in terms of a lifestyle versus something like a resolution. New Year’s resolutions generally don’t stick because people view the new behavior as temporary. If they build a pattern or a streak of their healthy activity to keep the habit going, that can help them keep their forward momentum towards positive changes throughout their life. It is human nature to get into an “either/or” situation: a rut of unhealthy living or a path of productivity. What this means for you and your young person is, it’s easier to eat a whole bag of chips today if they already did that yesterday. It’s easier to self-deprecate and talk down to themselves if they have been doing so for a while. It’s easier to skip another night of sleep if they have been staying up late to watch Netflix or play video games all week.

Likewise, it’s easier for your young person to keep up with their healthy habits if it’s simply just part of their day-to-day routine. See how many weeks in a row they can brush and floss their teeth without forgetting. Or ask them to keep track of how many days they cut back on their screen time during the summer. Maybe you could encourage them to keep a calendar up with how many days each week they got outside for some exercise.

Making habits routine is easier said than done, of course, because this is the essence of a habit. That’s why starting small is so crucial, and that’s why creating a calendar streak of days is the next logical step. If your young person misses a day, don’t let them get dismayed, encourage them to pick right back up the next day. Then they are back on track again!

There are two fantastic books on this topic, one entitled, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, and the other is “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. Both focus on small steps towards big things in life, and are great recommendations as essential readings on this topic.

Helping your young person to build their healthy habits over time is important. They will feel better about themselves with the successes and sense of accomplishment they have along the way. Self-confidence spills over into social interactions, and of course, any stress relief in the form of healthy habits leads to better physical health and overall longevity. This is a win-win for both you and your young person!