The definition of “habit” says it all.
According to the dictionary, a habit is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. Other definitions define a habit as a dominant or regular disposition or tendency, prevailing character or quality. For example, “She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things.”
So enough with the academia. What does this have to do with parenting?
If a behavior can be acquired, it can also be unacquired.
I experienced this personally while raising two daughters when a very good friend came to me one day and talked with me about how my daughters were talking to each other and about each other in public. Yes, you see we had sibling rivalry on a scale, which in the best of terms, would be rated above average!
Sibling rivalry is hard to avoid, hard to treat, and embarrassing to all involved.
My friend told me that she witnessed my girls talking ugly to each other at a ballgame. She knew that I would be mortified and mad if I heard it as others did. She said, “That’s just something that becomes a habit without even realizing it. You’ve got to break it.”
Hello. What a revelation!
She was right. Bad habits are just bad behavior that becomes routine.
No matter what my girls were thinking or feeling about each other, this outward hostility was only feeding further hostility and bad habits. What was I to do?
Inside a regular old jar, I placed slips of paper that listed manual jobs. Now, mind you, these were not easy jobs. They were crappy jobs. Things such as – pull weeds on the bank for ½ hour, sweep out and straighten up the garage, pick up sticks in the yard for ½ hour, sweep the driveway, a 300-foot long driveway! You get the idea. I was tempted to include clean three toilets but I refrained from cruel and unusual punishment.
I then met with the girls and we discussed their observed behavior and how this needed to be stopped. I told them that whenever they were heard being disrespectful of or talking ugly to their sister, they would have to pick a job from the Job Jar and complete that job before going to any social function. These girls were at about the preteen stage.
They were also suburban girls with totally charmed lives.
Doing manual labor was not their thing! I didn’t care if they had to fake it; I wanted them to be “nice” to each other until that became the habit, the routine way of being.
Now how many times do you think each child had to pick from the Job Jar until that bad habit was broken? Not more than once or twice. Mission accomplished!
Did the sibling rivalry end there? No. Did they never think poorly of their sister? No. Did they never again smart mouth their sister at home or in public? Probably not. But the routine nature of that one bad behavior was broken. Thanks to the JOB JAR, and a really good friend who cared about my girls and my family. Usually I am a proponent of the punishment fitting the crime. But, in the case of just making a major interruption, the JOB JAR worked!
Don’t let an acquired bad behavior turn into a permanent habit.