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The Informed Parent

Good Habits Create Good Students

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Apr. 02, 2012

Everyone wants success. It can look to parents and teachers like some children do everything in their power to avoid it. Do not be fooled. They achieve their goal by being the most successful unsuccessful kids possible.

Children’s brains develop rapidly during the first ten years of life and more slowly during adolescence. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for insight, planning, and moderating social behavior, reaches maturity in late adolescence and early adulthood. Wise parents assist with maximizing their child’s thinking potential when they take advantage of each developmental stage.

One of the best ways to help children learn, integrate, and maintain habits necessary for becoming effective students and citizens is by starting early in their lives. Behaviors that are learned and reinforced from early childhood become part of their thought pattern. Many of the habits necessary for being an effective student are those that are also necessary in adulthood.

Developing Routines

Everyone functions more effectively when they follow a routine. While we might think that routines impinge on freedom, they actually increase it. We work more efficiently, quickly, and accurately when we know what we are doing and have a plan to follow. This provides more time for play and pursuing personal interests.

My 15-year-old grandson is disabled. His dad and stepmom work hard to teach him household routines. With his input, they created a list for him to follow. Recently while I was staying with him, he got up from the dinner table and went to the computer. Knowing the sequence of his chores, I asked him if computer was on his list. “Oh, I forgot,” he said with a sheepish grin. “I need to put the dishes in the dishwasher . It’s on my list, and I have the list in my head now.” Trevor’s list helps him toward success in the home. His teachers give him lists at school. When he follows them, he gains positive acknowledgment and internal gratification knowing he has done well. Every child, regardless of age or ability, can learn to keep his list in his head and be a more productive family member and student.

When Are Routines Effective?

At home routines are most useful and effective at times when conflict or power struggles could arise: early mornings, homework, and bedtime. If a routine is set in place, children might complain, but they know they won‘t get far. Parents don’t need to cajole and nag. A simple, “You know the routine,” usually works.


Most children have a difficult time getting out of bed and hurrying to get out the door to school. While a morning routine probably won’t make them any happier, it does provide a structure that will make their morning less stressful.

  • Get up in plenty of time to not have to rush
  • Dress
  • Eat breakfast
  • Brush teeth
  • Pick up backpack
  • Leave


Homework routines may not be in your domain. Many children go to after school daycare. Often these programs schedule homework into the program. Nonetheless, it is wise to look at and check the homework. This shows your interest. Also you are aware of what is being learned and what teacher expectations are. If your children come home directly after school, homework is best done soon.

  • Snack
  • Short play break--15-20 minutes
  • Homework
  • Place completed homework in backpack, and put backpack by the door.

Children will balk at the homework routine. They’ll whine and complain. Once they know it is the expectation and that you are consistent in following through with it, they fall into the pattern and learn that by doing homework right away, there is more time for play.


This can be a precious time for families. A quiet bedtime ritual ends the day calmly and on a happy note.

  • Bath or shower and dress for bed
  • Brush teeth
  • Choose clothes for following day
  • Story or special time
  • Lights out


Create a weekly family calendar. At the beginning of the week, Sunday evenings are good, sit with the children and go over it. The calendar needs to include all appointments, extra curricular activities, and any other events that will take place.

In addition, each child can have a calendar of his own with his appointments and events. It will reflect the family calendar but with only his activities. Include the time of day the activity will take place. When he is engaged in play and you need to pull him away for a dental appointment or sports practice, he may complain. You simply need to say, “Check your calendar.”

Each morning before school, remind the children of what will be happening after school. When they know what to expect, they comply with greater ease.


Often parents resist planning ahead as much as children do. It takes time. If routines and schedules are to work, it takes commitment and consistency. Many parents find this difficult. Flying by the seat of your pants and constantly running at a spur of the moment pace is exhausting. It creates stress. It creates unneeded conflict between you and your children.

A bonus of creating family routines and schedules is that you, too, benefit. You may discover that while they don’t mitigate all conflicts and power struggles, they minimize them. You may also learn that you become more organized in other areas of your life.


Include the children in developing routines and schedules. When they participate in the planning, they take ownership. Admit that initiating them may be difficult for you and that it will take practice on everyone’s part. Children like to know that their parents don’t always find life easy. Show children how routines and schedules at home help them in school. Use concrete examples: “Wasn’t it nice that we didn’t have to hurry to get to school on time this mornings?” “Do you see how your plan helped you finish your science project on time?” “Look at that! Your homework is already finished and in your backpack”.

Said with a positive tone of voice and attitude, statements such as these become the acknowledgments children need for continual success. It is far more fun to be successful as an effective family member and student than as an unsuccessful one. 

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