Ever miss the days when life was so much simpler and there was a lot more fun around? Children have so much fun playing – when do we loose that spark for fun and creativity?
The importance of play
Right from a very early age, the importance of play in the lives of children is paramount. It´s how they first learn to smile and giggle and they are naturally attracted to people who will play and be silly with them. Playing stimulates children´s creativity and imagination and it teaches them how to interact with the world.
Children these days are incredibly busy and rarely have time just to relax at home and be creative. Being bored or simply having downtime is the best things for children as it stimulates their natural curiosity and imagination. Their innate sense of fun takes over and they will soon be involved in all kinds of creative, if possibly noisy or messy, fun. Engaging in fun activities boosts children´s sense of self, their confidence and self-esteem. Through play and interacting with others, they quickly learn some of those all important life-skills and social rules, such as sharing, taking turns and how to take responsibility for their actions and behaviours.
Does being grown up mean less fun?
As we get older, we take on more responsibility and life becomes more challenging with adult rules and expectations. We no longer have the same need to “play” yet it is easy to stop having any kind of fun altogether, especially if you have a business to run,a home to organize and children to raise. Suddenly we have been living a life of very little fun and we have become all rather boring ourselves.
We nag, we moan, we get stressed, we are too tired to go out, we would rather sit on the sofa and watch TV. We get irritated (aka jealous) if others are having way more fun than we are, and we wonder how on earth they do it. Like attracts like – if you laugh, people will laugh with you. If you are serious, that is what you attract back. Yet when life gets stressful and more complicated, there is little or no space for fun and laughter. The very thing that would make life less stressful and easier to manage, is the first thing to go.
And that´s when bad habits creep in.
when bad habits creep in
Bad habits creep in when we are not really paying attention, are too busy, too stressed and need to take shortcuts as a “temporary” solution. They creep in because they are easy, quicker, less hassle and require absolutely no maintenance, will-power or control whatsoever. The problem is though, as soon as you realise that you and the family have slipped into these bad habits, it´s going to take considerable effort to get out of them. The irony is it´s easy to get into habits which slow us down, go against what we really want, negatively impact on us and the values which we hold our-self to. This adds to our stress, which then completely squeezes the fun out of it all, because we are angry, frustrated and disappointed in ourselves. Usually, this displays itself in behaviours such as being angry and irritable with ourselves and everyone around us – it is the perpetual vicious circle.
creating happy habits game
So, how to break a few bad habits and have fun at the same time? Most people feel better about situations when they have:
- can measure success
- have a support network – yet are accountable at the same time
- take one thing at a time
- are realistic in what they have set out to do
- have a clear motivation to succeed.
So imagine a scenario where your whole family has the same goal – to break a bad habit:
- Choice – they choose a habit they want to break.
- Control – they decide what it is and when they are going to do it.
- Measurement – have a system of earning rewards.
- Have a family member designated to support them and hold them accountable.
- One habit at a time.
- Are rewarded as a family when things are achieved.
It´s very important for children to see adults (especially their parents) make the effort to make positive changes too. It sets a good example, shows commitment to keeping promises and demonstrates that everyone can take responsibility to make changes with support and a little bit of fun, no matter their age.
How to Play the Happy Habit Game
- As a family talk about everyone making little positive changes that really would make a big difference at home. These could be the little things that drive you absolutely bonkers, like not putting things in the dishwasher, not putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, not making their bed, not brushing their teeth (even though they say they do when you know full well they don´t) etc.
- Write them down on post-it notes. Now, this is very important – there is NO blame or telling off for habits they want to change. For example, if they admit they have in fact NOT been brushing their teeth, then that is great as they have admitted it and are going to change that bad habit. Move on – no telling off.
- Choose what habit you are going to break – do you nag them constantly, do things for them when you say you won´t, break promises etc? Choose 1 and be very clear about what it is and how it relates to what they are promising. E.g I won´t nag you to read every day, I won´t nag you to do your homework, or brush your teeth or make your bed etc. Make a clear map or plan or poster of everyone´s habit and put it somewhere visible.
- You are going to change these habits into happy habits.
- Write up the rules:
- Aim of the game is to create a new happy habit and keep all their lives. They may even earn other people´s lives!
- Everyone thinks of a family reward and these are on display with the rules. The reward is something everyone can join in and is focused in family time rather than doing something expensive.
- Everyone has a habit they are committed to breaking and replacing with a happy habit.
- Agree do this for a week and then renew for another week or change habits as needed.
- Everyone gets 10 lives – you could make little tokens or stars if you like.
- Everyone has a “habit partner” that will help them with creating their new happy habit.
- The partner isn’t there to catch them out, but to support them in making sure they develop good happy habits.
- Agree when they will do their habit e.g make their bed as soon as they get up, brush their teeth straight after breakfast and before bedtime, stack the dishwasher immediately after eating and before start playing etc. This needs to be very specific and written down.
- Make sure everyone is clear about what habit is being broken, what happy habit is replacing it, when and how the happy habit will be done and when their habit partner will check if they have done their happy habit.
- Happy habits happen every day – even weekends and if they are busy.
- Only their happy habit partner can check if they are doing their happy habit otherwise it becomes a bit of a “GOTCHA!”
- Everyone has to sign that they are clear on the rules.
- When a happy habit partner checks up on the habit and it has been done, the person creating the new happy habit keeps all of their lives and earns one more. If they have not, they have to give one of their lives to their partner.
- The person with the most lives at the end of the week gets to decide on which whole family treat they want to do, watching a movie, playing a game, going for an ice-cream etc.
This way, everyone is working to change a habit, everyone wants to keep their lives and earn more, everyone is accountable to someone else and everyone gets to be part of the reward at the end of the week – and new happy habits are well on their way to being formed. It is also a good lesson in consequences – they have agreed to do something, and the consequence of not doing it is to lose a life. The consequence of doing it is that they gain a life. Either way, they are becoming accountable for their actions.
Make it as fun as you can so everyone really enters into the positives of family time together. Let me know how you got on!