TEACHING HEALTHY HABITS: SOMETIMES IT'S A MESSY JOB

One morning I had to accept that teaching 4-year-old twin boys how to brush their teeth was both harder and more time consuming than training for the Springfield Bass Pro Marathon.  Dried spit caked on both sides of the sink where they didn’t rinse like I told them and spots of toothpaste “spray” covered the mirror since they didn’t close their mouths when brushing.

It was a hassle!  It was messy!  And yet, my sons had to learn to brush their teeth.  My wife and I drew a line in the sand and said, “This is going to happen!”

Role Modeling Doesn’t Always WorkMaybe you have the 1 in 1000 kid who likes to brush his or her teeth and does it perfectly.  If so, awesome!  For the rest of us, it’s clear there are some habits like teeth brushing that aren’t going to happen when the kids simply observe Dad’s behaviors.  They ignore our frantic brushing and go on reading or playing.  I have to demand they brush their teeth, or they simply won’t do it.

Taking a bath, for instance – water, water, everywhere!  I ask my older son, “Were you trying to turn the shower into a Slip ‘n Slide?”  Bathing is one healthy habit that has to be described and demonstrated by engaging the child, rather than me performing the behavior in front of him or her.  I can tell them I do shower, shave, and clean up especially after exercise or a hot day.  They can hear the shower water running and observe the steam when I open the bathroom door after finishing.  As they get older, I have to trust that when I hear the water running and observe the steam when they open the door that they too have done everything correctly as I told them.  Then I hand them a towel to mop up the floor.

Perfect Practice--The Art of Correction “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” is from the Book of Proverbs.  I’ve always understood this phrase to mean my children will do whatever they are trained to do, good or bad, and when they are older they will keep doing it.  That’s good if the behaviors are positive, but there’s no guarantee that everything they do will be a healthy habit.  Correction is often necessary.

It’s not enough to do something over and over wrong and hope it gets better.  A good band director or coach will tell the group, “Try it again but go slower this time; move this way instead of that; take the music pages or playbook home tonight and study it.”  The old saying, “Practice makes perfect” should be tweaked to say, “Practice makes PERMANENT.”

Some may think it is old-fashioned to say that a Dad is “head of the house.”  But I believe that title means no one else owns that privilege of correcting children’s behavior like we do.  It’s our duty to correct when needed--not the teacher, the school principal, the band director, or the sports coach.  These professionals are on our team to assist, but they don’t replace us as the head of the family.

Winning with a spouse and family team

My wife is my partner, so whenever we decide it’s time for our kids to do something, we back each other up and help ensure it gets done.  Even when it’s something simple like going to bed at our established bedtime we have a plan in place and agree that the task has to be done on time. There’s no point setting boundaries for children if they know they can go behind Dad’s back and have Mom excuse them.  Also, it’s confusing when Mom says, “No” and Dad undermines her saying, “Well, maybe.”  Good communication with my spouse heads off a lot of problems, and being ready to “tag in” when my partner is at her wit’s end keeps her from going crazy.

Not every family is blessed to have both a father and mother in the home.  In this case, it’s key to ensure that family members and friends—even dear-hearted grand parents—don’t over-rule Dad’s wishes by letting grandkids get away with not staying inside the boundaries we establish. I’m not talking about occasionally staying up an hour past normal bedtime when bunking over at Papa and Nana’s house here.  We want to make sure everyone is informed and respectful of the rules we’ve established for our kids.  That’s why they are our kids and not someone else’s.Asking for HelpI encourage my kids to join me exercising as I jog, bicycle, and swim.  That’s the level of my skill.  If they want to get their exercise through basketball, football, or any sport involving a ball, I’ll have to hire a coach.  Not all of us Dads are skilled enough to train our children by example in every activity.  That’s okay; there are many good people who can help.  It’s very loving for a Dad to admit his limitations and go find a proper teacher.​

Task-Master or Role-Model? Sometimes both!

If I want my sons to brush their teeth, I may have to force them and clean up a lot until they learn how and why it’s important.  If I want my daughter to stop fiddling around on her phone at the dinner table, I must put mine away and make family meal time an “electronic device free zone” for 30 minutes every day, no excuses.  We Dads own these tasks, and it’s a solemn and delightful privilege to shape a child into the person he or she will be.  Asking for help when needed is wise and courageous.  So is standing up to those who try to derail your plan, even if it’s with good intentions.  We’re all in this together, so if I can be an encouragement, let me know!

About Author

Sid Whiting is the father of three and the husband of one. He lives with his wife Gail and their children in Springfield, Missouri. He also enjoys real estate investing, serving in the 135th Army Band as a percussionist and bass guitarist, and plays in the Praise Band "Soul Purpose" and the "Hallelujah Bells" hand bell choir.  He can be reached for comment or question at sid.whiting75@gmail.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WiseSteward).