When does a habit become a pattern that stays for life?

30 October 2017

When does a habit become a pattern that stays for life?

  • Behaviour
by Michael Grose

Ever wished you had your time over again?

Recently, I was speaking to Jeremy, a colleague, who wished he had his time as a parent over again.

He told me how his twenty-two year old son was drifting from job to job and course to course. This father told me that since leaving school at sixteen his son had changed jobs or courses at least twenty times.

This dad lamented that his son hadn’t even finished one course he’d started or stayed at a job long enough to receive a qualification or complete an apprenticeship.

As soon as a course or job got tough or a boss put some pressure on him to lift his game, his son would leave rather than put in the required effort.

Poor patterns start with poor habits

Jeremy believed that the seeds of his son’s inability to see things through were sown at a very young age. He blamed himself for letting his son give in too easily when things got tough.

In primary school when subjects became too hard, his son would make excuses and give in. His parents would often be at school pleading their son’s case for teachers to ease up. “He’s only a boy. Don’t push him too hard!” was the approach they’d take.

Jeremy’s son also chopped and changed at leisure and sporting activities, never seeing any activity through to completion. As soon as he met with difficult people, didn’t get his own way or the learning/competition became too hard he gave in and went on to try something else.

His dad allowed him to keep changing activities in the hope that he would find something he was good at. In doing so, he allowed his son to develop the habit of avoidance. Eventually, this habit after so many repetitions became a life pattern, which is difficult to break.

Now as an adult as soon as he meets with resistance or difficulty of any kind at work and in relationships his immediate response is to look for new opportunities, rather than work through the difficulties to achieve mastery. The pattern of avoidance has become so ingrained that his son simply cannot see anything difficult through. The tragedy of course, is that a worthwhile achievement of any kind, whether it’s getting a qualification, mastering a musical instrument or learning a new language, will always present significant challenges that need to be worked through. By continually giving in, this young man will never achieve anything of significance, unless he adopts a new pattern, which takes considerable commitment and work.

Help your kids develop positive life patterns

The habits that parents encourage in their kids will eventually become entrenched life patterns so it makes sense to encourage positive habits from the earliest possible age. Here are five positive habits to develop in kids that with practice, repetition and parental encouragement will become positive patterns or ways of behaving that generally stay for life:

1. Pattern of contribution: This patterns starts by parents developing the helping habit in their children. Expect your kids to help you and others without being paid. It’s the pattern that leaders in every field display.

2. Pattern of self-sufficiency: This pattern starts by parents encouraging kids to look after themselves; do simple life tasks and take increasing personal responsibility for their behaviour as they become older. Doing too much for kids puts the breaks on the self-sufficiency pattern.

3. Pattern of problem-solving: This wonderful pattern starts when parents give children ownership of their mistakes and challenges, allowing them to find their own solutions to problems. Rescuing and micro-managing children develops the pattern of dependence, which is an endemic among today’s twenty-somethings.

4. Pattern of help-seeking: Past generations are renowned for keeping adversity close to their chests rather than reaching out and seeking help and assistance from friends and family, or professional help, when needed. Encourage help-seeking behaviours in children and young people so that help-seeking becomes a normalised, accepted pattern when life gets tough.

5. Pattern of expressing gratitude: Ever noticed how some people seem to have so much in terms of wealth, possessions and talent yet they never seem happy with what they have, while others who may have very little in terms of material possessions are thankful for the little things that happen in life? This pattern of gratitude was more than likely established in childhood. It’s a wonderful resilience attribute that contributes so much to a person’s happiness and well-being.

It’s empowering as a parent to know that the habits we encourage in our kids usually become ingrained as patterns of behaviour that stay for life. It’s in this patterning that the true impact of parents and family-life can be found.

For more positive patterns to develop in kids book check out my latest Spoonfed Generation: How to Raise Independent Kids. There are many positive habits outlined that with practice and repetition will become successful life patterns.


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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s an award-winning speaker and the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation, and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. Michael is a former teacher with 15 years experience, and has 30 years experience in parenting education. He also holds a Master of Educational Studies from Monash University specialising in parenting education.