Duhigg’s Routine Method

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Parents are the role models for their children, whether they are good, indifferent, or poor ones. A child raised by a drug addict or someone who physically abuses them might think, “I am never going to be THAT kind of parent when I have kids.” However, they may find themselves subconsciously following this dysfunctional example for the simple reason that it was all they grew up knowing. Whether we realize it or not, being indifferent or uninvolved can also have a negative impact on a child. The best kind of parents are the ones who are proactive, who engage with their child, and develop a daily routine that can change the child’s future. This is something you cannot leave up to chance; you need to set the bar high when they are young, or else they will live a life of doing “just enough” to get by; they will never excel or achieve anything.

The first question people might ask is, “How exactly do I develop a daily routine when things are so chaotic? On Monday one child has soccer practice, then on the next one has ballet while the other has piano, and then I have my OWN stuff as well!” This is certainly an area of concern in our modern world. Things move so quickly around us that it seems we don’t have time to make sense of any of it. If that is the case, then how do we take more of our limited time and set it aside to make up a routine that would guide us through how to use that time??? As difficult as it may be for our instant gratification mentality, we must take time out to do it. Otherwise we may waste a lot of time on unimportant activities instead of focusing on what is really important.

One more thing needs to be said about our chaotic lives: due to their unpredictability, the one quality your schedule must possess is FLEXIBILITY. Can’t get to the grocery store on Monday morning? Make it interchangeable with something you planned to do on Tuesday afternoon. Otherwise you will become a prisoner to your routine. Inability to achieve items on a daily routine can cause some people anxiety and even depression, which will just cause you to spiral downward even further. Aside from this, many studies also indicate that rigidity can stifle creativity. In other words, you might already have the answer to a problem in your mind, but your way of thinking is so narrow that you can’t move off the beaten path to find it! Give your mind room to roam.

When it comes to things like homework and school projects, there are several things you can do to guarantee the child has a successful routine. One of these would be a distraction-free workspace; this might be more difficult for some to achieve, but it is ideal. Another would be developing something called “accountability metrics.” For example, if a student has to write a paper, then they could keep track of how many words they write for every quarter hour. The student can organize their work in terms of when it is due (completing an assignment for tomorrow versus working on that paper that is due next week), or if they are the type of person who doesn’t like huge projects hanging over their head, they can break it down into small chunks. Going back to the previous example: if you have a 10-page paper due next week, but you also have homework due tomorrow, set a goal of writing 1-2 pages of that paper and then go on to the assignments that are due sooner.

When you are first starting out with the creation of this routine, you might not know where to begin. In cases like this, it is natural to look to examples from other people for ideas. While it is okay to use someone else’s routine as inspiration, you should not adopt it as your own. You still need to take the time to sit down with that example, analyze it, figure out what would work for you and what wouldn’t (because not everything from the other person’s life will be analogous to yours), and then create a routine that fits into your life.

Some parents may find that one of the most difficult times of day is when their children get home from school. This is a prime example of chaos: everyone gets home at or around the same time, everyone wants something different, and everyone wants the chance to do whatever THEY feel like doing because they’ve had to meet everyone else’s demands (teachers, bosses, etc.) all day.

A man named Charles Duhigg developed a method to create an effective after-school routine, which he called the “Habit Loop” theory. He discussed this extensively in his book The Power of Habit. Surprisingly, all you need to do is follow a simple three-step process that involves the brain’s influence on habits. After all, the decision to stick with or abandon a habit is formed in our brains, so it makes sense that this would be the best place to start.

The three steps of Duhigg’s Habit Loop theory are (1) cue, (2) routine, and (3) reward. If left to its own devices, the brain can use this process against us to make us lethargic and develop bad habits. (Some people prefer to replace “cue” with “reminder,” which we will use for the remainder of this article.) However, with some effort, we can change this so we live a proactive life full of good habits. Parents can then pass this on to their children, and then the child can maintain it independently. It will help them develop the skills they need to be happy and successful. At this point, I want to note that Charles Duhigg originally developed the Habit Loop for adults, but with a little tweaking, it can be adjusted so that it makes sense in a family setting.

STEP 1:

Determine the Routine. Know what you want to accomplish (homework, chores, instrument practice for band or vocal practice for chorus, and so on). It is a good idea to start off simple and then increase in length and detail over time. If you get to a point where your child seems to get lost or frustrated, then scale it back one step, and you should be good to go. It’s also advisable to let the child have a say in the routine. This will help them develop a sense of responsibility, boost their creativity, and (most important of all!) increase the likelihood that they will buy into this new plan. You will remain on this step until you have developed a thorough, well-rounded routine.

STEP 2:

Determine the Reminder. Since we want the child to take this routine and run with it, the parent should NOT be the reminder. Instead, it must be something specific to the routine. Any one of the following five items can serve as effective reminders:

Time

Location (Example: getting home from school, going to the library, etc.)

Preceding Event (Example: When Mom or Dad get home from work, it’s time for chores.)

Other people (Example: A tutor could remind them it’s time to study.)

Emotional state

STEP 3:

Define the Reward. Again, this will mean more if you involve your children in defining the rewards. This could be something like time on a video game, hanging out with friends, or “goofing off.” If possible, the ideal reward will be something that allows you to bond with your child, such as helping each other make dinner, watching a TV show together, or engaging in a mutual hobby.

This last item is of particular importance, because studies have shown that children who spend more time with their families tend to be emotionally healthier and better adjusted socially than children who grow up in households that lack such routines. These children have something called a higher “social-emotional health.” This means these children can express their feelings while understanding the emotions of others, and they can develop healthy relationships with peers and adults.

Scientific evidence suggests that children with these abilities are more likely to succeed in school. This is based on research gathered from long-term studies where researchers looked at how often children participated in five family routines: having dinner together at least five times per week, reading, storytelling or singing at least three times per week, and playing a few times per week.

The reason children with higher social-emotional health can do better in school is simple. According to Dr. Claire McCarthy (a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital), “When (children) are unhappy, insecure, or unsure of their environment, energy goes into dealing with that and not into learning.”

Our children are the ones who will be running the world. It cannot be overstated how important it is to prepare for the responsibilities that will be coming their way, and it all begins very simply: with a consistent, daily routine.

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