Parenting lesson #42: 21 anythings to make or break a habit.


The idea just popped into my head.

My dad, ever the supportive one on the phone this weekend, was listening to me rant about how my kids don’t clean up after themselves. “You have to make them,” he said. Thanks, dad. Then it just came out of my mouth. “I’m going to make the kids go out the front door, walk in and over to the boot tray, take off their boots, put them on the tray, and then put them back on and do the process over and over again in a row, like 20 times. Maybe that will work.” My dad laughed and said, “Maybe.”

So I did an experiment.

I started with my daughter because she’s the oldest and thus gets to shoulder the most responsibility and highest expectations. (#birthorder) She shrugged, and about every three trips outside asked, “How many more do I have to do?” And I said, “I know you can count, but you’re at 9.” “No way! I’m, like, at 12.” “Fine, 11,” I said. “Nine more.”

She finished. And do you know what happened when she came home from going out with a friend for the afternoon? She walked in the door, went right over to the boot tray, took off her boots, and put them there.

It was glorious.

I know this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a habit or will stick. But just last night, she proudly said as we came in the door, “Look, mommy, I’m putting my boots where they go.

“Aren’t you proud of me?”

“This is amazing. Of course I’m proud. Do you think the experiment worked?”

“I think so,” she said.

Time will be the judge of that. But I’ve always heard that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. What if it’s the same with muscle memory for tasks such as clearing a plate after eating, hanging up a coat, or washing hands after going to the bathroom? If this truly sticks, I’m going to use it over and over and over again. At least 21 times.

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