What are your parenting habits?
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
According to experts about 40% of our daily actions are based on habits. Basically a "cue" takes place, and it triggers our rehearsed routine, leading to some sort of reward that tells our brain to keep following this pattern. For example, when I wake up in the morning (cue) I change into workout clothes (routine), which makes it far more likely I'll actually exercise and feel a sense of accomplishment (reward).
Habits serve the purpose of freeing up our mental space so we don't have to "think" about things we do regularly. This is great when we establish habits that work for our benefit. Waking up and automatically drinking a big glass of water, is a habit with health benefits. Establishing a habit of morning snuggles in your child's bed before starting the day can lead to both of you feeling more connected, and ultimately a smoother morning.
Unfortunately, we can also create habits that don't serve us. Your emotional state hits a certain level and you binge eat chocolates, for the reward of the sugar. Your child's voice starts to rise, and you yell louder, for the reward of being heard. The difference with these habits is afterward the initial reward comes frustrations, guilt, and/or shame.
So how you can go about changing habits? According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, there are 4 steps:
Identify the routine. This is typically the behavior you want to change. Get curious about the possibly cues and rewards for the routine.
Isolate the cue. Typically a cue falls into one of five categories - location, time, emotional state, other people, or immediately preceding action. You can keep a note in your phone or on a sheet of paper, and write down the answers to these questions every time the behavior happens. Where are you? What time is it? What's your emotional state? Who else is around? What action preceded the urge? Then look at your answers and see if you notice a pattern. Are you always exploding in the afternoon because you've been go go go and can't do it anymore? Then maybe, building in a few minutes of rest or play before the craziness of making dinner can interrupt the pattern.
Next get curious about your reward.What are you gaining from the actions you take? This can be tricky to figure out.It can help to experiment with switching up the routine and see if you still get the reward. For instance, if you're trying to change the behavior of yelling at your kids and you're not sure if the reward you get when you yell is the physical release that it allows, or the fact that your kids tend to do what you say when you finally lose your mind, then try switching up the routine in two different ways. When the cue happens, first try getting down on their level and whispering. If they listen to your whisper, do you still get the same reward or do you feel tense, like you're missing the release that yelling provides? Next time the cue happens try walking away and singing loudly or letting out a playful scream in the other room. Do you still feel the need to yell after letting it out in another room or are you able to go into the situation calmer?
Have a plan. Once you've figured out your habit loop - the cue, routine, and reward - make a plan for the cue. Write it down, picture it, practice it. The more you practice the more you strengthen the new and desired habit loop!
If you need help figuring out your cue, routine, reward OR you need help figuring out what your new routine should be I can help you! Click here to sign up for a one hour problem solving session.