From DVD programs that supposedly expand your brain to speed-reading programs, there are a plethora of products on the market that cater to parents looking to give their children a leg up. But before you rush out to buy a brain-enhancing product, consider another (free) alternative: instilling a good habit or routine.
There are many reasons why a good habit is a better bet than that fancy flash-card system.
It is a fact that the earlier you start a habit, the more likely it is to stick with you over your lifetime. So why not take on three or four habits that you can help you teach your kids? In the short term it will save time and help you maintain your sanity. In the long term it will benefit your kids when they're adults.
Here are five easy ways to get started:
1. Plan the Week. Sure, spontaneity is the spice of life, but overall it is better to have a sense of the week ahead. Sit down Sunday night with your children and help them plan the week ahead. Discuss what is urgent and what is important and also what immediately needs to get done and what can be broken into bite-sized mini projects.Take into account extracurricular activities and coordinate schedules with everyone else in the family. Resist the urge to give the answer. Instead, engage your children in the planning – ask questions that strengthen their planning muscle. It will help develop critical skills that can be used throughout their lives.
2. Create a Morning Routine. Mornings can be so hard, especially for teenagers. Start your kids on a path to productivity by enforcing a morning routine as soon as possible. The critical components are: getting dressed, brushing teeth and organizing what they need for the day. Consider skipping items if they are not critical (like making the bed). After all, don’t you just get right back in it at night? If mornings are a particularly brutal time, institute an evening routine where everyone in the family (including mom and dad) get their backpacks, keys, wallets, and purses organized and ready by the door before hitting the hay.
If your children are really little, you might benefit from printing out a visual chart or some cards that illustrate the routine you would like them to adopt.
3. Good Things Do Happen to Those Who Wait. Nothing prepares your kids better than teaching the lesson of delayed gratification. A study showed that a child’s ability to hold off on eating a cookie at age four correlated with their overall success later in life. Impulse purchases are part of our culture – and a little treat now and then isn’t a bad thing to do, as long as also reinforce delayed gratification in general. Waiting for something you think you really want separates the nice-to-haves from the musts and almost always makes whatever it is you’re waiting for that much sweeter in the end. Let your kids work up to something. Teach them that doing their chores all week without complaints can earn them an extra 30 minutes of computer time. It is a great lesson you can teach kids now that will serve them well all of their lives.
4. Control the Clutter.
If you have a child in elementary school, you’re more than familiar with the projects, drawings, and otherwise indescribable objects that come home, but kids in all grades come home with lots of stuff that can quickly become clutter. Make a concerted effort to let your kids keep one or two projects a week and put the rest into the recycling bin. Set aside an area for important documents (like permission slips and teacher notes) and get your kids in the habit of sorting their stuff when they get home.
5. The Power of Containment.
Organization needs order, right? Make sure everything at home for the kids has a home and your kids know where that is. Keep a supply of containers ranging from self locking plastic bags* or cloth bags (all sizes) to bins and baskets. Label them as well. For example, crayons and pencils can go in freezer-sized bags or old coffee mugs, books can go in baskets and papers can go in binders. It doesn’t really matter what kinds of containers you use, just that there are enough to house your children’s clutter and that your kids know the system and use it.
The bottom line is simply this: Starting good habits, whether making the bed, cleaning up toys or organizing themselves for baseball practice, sets kids up to become more productive and, yes, organized, adults. Who doesn’t want that for their kids?
What are your best tips for keeping the clutter at bay with kids in the house? How do you help your kids develop good organizing skills?
*Plastic bags can pose a suffocation hazard. Keep away from babies and small children.