Boy washing teeth

Usefulness of automated habits for kids – Simple, but not easy!

All parents set goals in raising their children. Big goals and small goals, consciously or less consciously. For very young children it is mostly about practical, everyday things, such as healthy eating, regular exercise , brushing teeth, washing hands before sitting down for a meal, plenty of rest, etc. Even for very young children, parents have clear ideas of how they want to raise them, for instance: help them to be polite to others, or helpful, or share toys with, etc.

The concept of succeeding in raising your kids to your favored or preferred goals is relatively simple: support your child to make a habit of a particular behavior.

Characteristic of a habit is that it is automated. In other words, you do not have to think anymore about how to behave. For example driving a car: you are only vaguely aware that you pay attention to the other traffic, but you do.

The time that it takes to make an automated habit of a certain behavior of course is dependent on the type of behavior is (and of the context), but on average it takes an average of no more than 66 days (Research done by the University College London).

Support your child to make an automated habit of a particular behavior. It takes an average of no more than 66 days.

Our hypothesis is that this will go faster with young children. In the first place because the habits to be formed are relatively simple. And secondly because the children will be encouraged (rewarded) by their parents.

Parents are pleased when their child helps set the the table, cleans the rabbit cage or brushes his/her teeth. The satisfaction of the parent is a huge incentive (reinforcer) for the child to exhibit more of that behavior.

To create an automated habit of a certain behavior a constant repetition is needed, and within a defined context . Meaning:  stimulate the habit every day or every time the situation arises. That context will in time be the trigger to the habit, and the child no longer needs to be reminded.

Consistently stimulate the habit every day or every time the situation arises.


  • Brushing teeth: every day after dinner / after waking up / before bedtime . The moments of day are the context.
  • Shake hands: every time a friend or family member comes to visit. The visitor is the context, and the child will eventually shake hands without being asked, even if he / she is elsewhere in the house.
  • Share with siblings or friends when “fighting” over a toy or an iPad, right from the start you can set the rule of “take turns every x minutes”, and throw a dice who will start. The presence of friends and the situation are the context.
  • Healthy eating: after every dinner you offer a piece of fruit. This can be a tricky one! The “sandwich method” can help: “after finishing your fruit you can have a scoop of ice cream / fifteen minute (extra) TV-time”. The meal and the time of day are the context.

These are just examples. Parents will differ in their goal setting of course. The examples can be endlessly expanded: coat on the rack, shoes taken off at the front door, bedtime (always after reading / game / bath) etc.

The forming of new habits thus appears to be quite simple, but that does not mean that it is easy! A lot is asked from parents especially in the field of consistency. Parents who finished potty training understand the importance of being consistent 😉

But their effort and commitment will be rewarded; after all, in 66 days (but probably less) they see the result of their efforts!

(Inspiration: Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick by Jeremy Dean)

Wikipedia on automated habits and routines.