My wife and I share a lot in common, but in one interesting way, we are quite different. She drinks a lot of water every day. Wherever she goes, she carries a bottle of filtered water. She’s always hydrated.

I, on the other hand, rarely drink water. I’ve been this way all my life, beginning with my time in the Army, when it was important to conserve water during military operations.

When she was a young woman, my wife had problems with kidney infections. Her doctor told her that if she didn’t get in the habit of drinking a lot of water, he would have to prescribe some nasty medications. So now, decades later, drinking water all day long is her habit. She doesn’t even think about it.

I’ve come to realize that not staying hydrated is bad for my health, too. Because having water at my side at all times isn’t my habit, I’ll need to do what my wife did: make it one.

Fortunately, I know how habits are formed. My study of how the brain learns has taught me that habits are like skills: you have to repeat the desired behavior countless times to stimulate the brain cells involved in the behavior to connect into a circuit. At first, I’ll have to concentrate on remembering to have water at my side – and to drink it. But eventually, if I do this enough, the cells will connect, and I’ll be drinking water all day long – automatically, like my wife.

There’s a principle here: any behavior will become a habit if you continue doing it long enough.

An important, related principle: the brain doesn’t care if the behavior pattern is a good one or a bad one. Do it often enough, and you’ll end up doing it without thinking about it.

This is important information for parents because your child’s brain works the same way yours does, and it can form habits as easily as you can. Anything your child does repeatedly can become a habit.


So, keeping this in mind, you might want to pay attention to what your child is doing repeatedly. Because your child could be developing some good habits…or some that have bad consequences.

The next time you notice your child doing something that bothers you, ask yourself if this is something that has been happening a lot. If you conclude that it has become a habit, the remedy isn’t simply to express your displeasure. As Mark Twain once said: “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs one step at a time.”

The project has to be replacing the bad habit with a good one. The process will require conscious effort initially, along with coaching and encouragement. But again, with enough repetitions, the desired behavior can become habitual.

Habits – they’re always forming. Pay attention to what your child is doing, be realistic about what you’re seeing, exercise coaching and patience, and you can make things go your way.

One important set of “habits” kids need to learn is thinking skills. Developing these skills to avoid the perils of adolescence and prepare for success in life is the focus of my book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

You can grow the bond with your child through better listening. Download the FREE ebook, Listening to Understand.