Tackling One Habit at a Time

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“Starting today, our family is going to start eating healthier,” announced the mother. “There is going to be no more soda, fast food, or microwave meals. In addition, we are all going to start exercising as a family and not just lay around watching TV and playing video games.”

There are a few times every year when parents get inspired to change family habits in order to improve how the family functions. Making resolutions for the New Year is one of the more popular times to change family habits. Although, spring cleaning and the beginning of the school year are other times when parents take a moment to assess how their family is functioning and decide to make changes.

Making bold statements like the mother above is a first step in changing a habit. Before any habits can be changed, there has to be the motivation to change. Unfortunately, this can be the first road block for changes within the family. While the mother might be inspired to make a change, children may be more reluctant.

When only one or two family members are committed to change, it makes it that much harder to have the change actually happen. The other family members will sabotage efforts like sneaking out for fast food or playing video games in their rooms. To avoid this potential difficulty, families should come to an agreement about what habits need to be changed. This includes involving children and their opinions.

Another road block that can interfere with family’s efforts to change is tackling too many changes at once. In the situation above, the mother has stated that the family is going to eat healthier and exercise while eliminating unhealthy eating and watching TV. This is way too much change to occur all at once.

Families and particularly children like a high level of consistency and predictability in their lives. When families develop unhealthy habits, it becomes extremely difficult to change them. Families who are successful in changing habits tackle one habit at a time and stick with it.

In the above situation, the family would be better off focusing on increasing eating healthy foods for dinner three times per week. This goal is not ultimately where the family wants to be but it is a good start. It also makes the goal achievable as it is a small change and does not make the big bold changes that the mother initially announced.

Another advantage of focusing on one manageable goal to change a family habit is that all of the families’ energy can be devoted to it. Families can share responsibility for making sure the change sticks. The mother could plan the healthy meals for the week with input from the children while the father could cook the meals and enlist the children’ help in its’ preparation. Now all family members have become invested in the change.

Families are extremely powerful when all members are going towards the same goal. In this season of resolutions and changing habits, pick a small manageable goal and get all family members on board.

This article was published in the Richmond Register Medical Beat Magazine for Winter 2015.

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