The Power Of Bad Habits

The other night I got really upset with my kids. They are 8 and 6 and they were bickering.  Again.  About what?  Nothing.  I got upset because their bickering has become nearly constant.  I sat them down and talked to them about it becoming a bad habit.

Two Different Personalities

My kids have two very different personalities.  They’re opposites in many ways.  My son is more the bookworm who is just fine playing on his own.  He has a difficult time fitting in, which breaks my heart because I was the same way around his age.  My daughter loves being around other people and has no problem making friends.  My son thinks very logically, where my daughter often drifts around in her thinking.

They’re both awesome and amazing, but the differences cause them to bicker.  Like, all the time.

It drives my wife and I nuts.  I know that others notice it, and it’s off putting.  I’m sure we get judged as parents though we honestly try our best  The fact is that they are two different people that spend a lot of time together, and butt heads often.

Still, it breaks our hearts when they bicker.  And, it often boils our blood.

The Start Of A Bad Habit

The bickering has become a really bad habit.  To the point where a small disagreement often instantly escalates into a shouting match.  When one or both is tired, this can happen literally 100 times between school and bedtime.

The other night, probably the 99th dust up took place and I had it.  I sat them down and tried to explain how important it was that they try to get along.  I didn’t just tell them they had to do it.  What I did was try to explain why.  And, more importantly, why they couldn’t put it off.

Bad Habits Take Root

Bad habits don’t form overnight.  You don’t just start doing something.  Most are a gradual thing.  They often take a long time to become a really bad habit.  The problem is that by the time you realize you’ve taken on a bad habit, it’s taken root in your life.  And just like some weeds that go far underground, they’re very difficult to get rid of.  If you pull a weed, it’ll come right back unless you get that root.  And, if you have a weed (like a dandelion) that roots far underground, it’ll always come back.  (My front yard can attest to this last fact).

That’s why, I explained to them, they have to address this now.

image from Morguefile courtesy of MGDboston

Bad Habits Don’t Go Away

I sat down and explained to my kids that their arguing wasn’t just impacting them now.  It’s setting them up for a bad relationship down the line.

Many people know that they’re doing something wrong and figure they’ll get to it later.  I know my kids think this way.  They figure they’ll just start getting along later.

The problem is, with bad habits, it doesn’t work that way.  Once a habit is there, it sticks there.  As time goes on, it gets tougher and tougher to get rid of.

So, I talked to my kids and explained that they’ll need each other in life.  I talked about middle school and high school, which are tough times, and how they will need to look out for one other.  I explained college and then growing up.  We talked about how one day my wife and I would’t be around, and it wouldn’t be just them.  This may seem like heavy stuff for kids that young, but I think kids need to hear it straight sometimes.  I often forget how much they can process.

And for each of the references, I explained that they wouldn’t just start getting along at any of those points if things didn’t change.

You might think, well it’s too late.  After all, they’re just 8 and 6, right?  Well, I don’t buy that at all.  There are so many things being formed in their brains. If they develop a relationship that isn’t based on trust and respect, that’s going to be how their relationship grows.  If anything, when they get to be teenagers and start hating everything, it’d be even tougher to form a stronger relationship.

The time is now.

My Fingernails As An Example Of Bad Habits

I am a nail biter.  I use this example a lot to go through how difficult it is to get rid of a bad habit. See, I started chewing my nails as a kid.  And, I still do today.

Had I stopped early on in life, it would have been a non-issue.  But, I didn’t break the habit, and now it’s with me.  Even if I do consciously quit, I think the most I’ve ever lasted is a month.  It took root and now it’s there.

I don’t want my kids bickering to be their version of nail biting.  They need each other.  To have each other can be a gift that they’ll one day want.  Need, in fact.  Trying to help them figure out a better relationship is something I desire greatly.  I even hinted it at in my 2018 goals, when I set one to ‘be protective’.  Our kids bickering and trying to get rid of it was the basis of that goal.

It’s probably the one that, if I could hope to achieve more than any other, I would target.  We can’t force them to like each other.  I would never ask my kids to change who they are.  But, I do want to make sure that they respect and appreciate each other.  That they look out for each other.  To protect each other.  It’s my biggest hope for them right now.

Readers, what do you think about bad habits?  Is it ever too early to try to work past them?  What habits have you seen that endanger relationships or affect someone for life?   Any suggestions on how to get two ‘opposites’ to form a relationship based on trust?

14 thoughts on “The Power Of Bad Habits”

  1. I think you can always combat a bad habit. Some are harder to break, but behavior is quite malleable if you’re committed to change. I’ve found a lot of success in structuring my day, for example, to save more money.

  2. Wow! It’s a rainbow of cultural truths. 🙂 Your kids are lucky to have you as a parent.

    One never knows with kids. (Isn’t it hard to believe we all came out of the same gene pool?) I’ve had friends who said they and a sibling fought, kicked, and contemplated homicide all through childhood but once they reached adulthood were closer to that person than to anyone else — possibly excepting a spouse. Contrariwise…other friends (my father included…) washed their hands of the annoying sibling at the earliest possible moment and rarely spoke to them again. I think you’re right to address the issue with them NOW, not later.

    Also I’ll bet it’s surely not too late. Or too early. In fact, this could be the best time: they’re of an age when they can understand what they’re doing (with your help) and are developing the self-discipline they’ll need to navigate their way through life.

    Hm. I wonder if there’s some kind of behavioral device — we might call it a “tool” or even a “habit” (a good one) — that one or both of them could engage when they feel a squabble coming on. Could they, for example, promise to count to 10 (better yet…110!!!) before they snap back with some sharp rejoinder? Could they methodically ask themselves: IS this (Fill in the blank: object, rhetorical point, activity, minor annoyance) something that I want to waste energy arguing about…really? Why? Could one or the other (or both) stop what they’re doing and go do something else until they both get a grip? Could they contemplate the real meaning of of “disengage”? How about could they decide that each sibling will give the other one a small gift — a piece of candy, a coin, a choice of what TV show will be watched, whatEVER — every time they snap (or snap back!) at the person? Could they have a chart on the fridge listing the number of squabbles they foment in any given day and get a parental reward for every day they reduce the bickering matches over the previous day?

    Good luck with this project. And hang in there. Nothin’s easy with kids. 😀

    • Thanks. The ‘heat of the moment’ definitely applies with them, so it’s pretty difficult (especially at their young age) to try to get them to take a step back / deep breaths. Maybe someday!

  3. It’s never too late to try *if you want it enough* but the longer you wait, the harder it’ll probably be.

    My brother and I were the two constantly butting heads and I’m sad to say that even though we went through a period when we got along well, our differences were too fundamental for it to last. His base personality was lazy, selfish, and manipulative, on top of being more social (like your daughter) and I was rigid, judgemental, and angry on top of being bookish (like your son) and much less social. I learned to break my bad habits in my late teens and 20s, but he never did, so I don’t think this rift between us will ever be mended.

    My parents did give us the same talks about needing each other, and being all we’ll have in the end when they die, but unfortunately that didn’t matter when he refused to also change his habits even when they were hurting everyone around him.

    I think we were a drastic example of sibling malfunction, or at least I hope so, because if we have a second kid, I’d like our home not to become a war zone. I feel so bad for my parents now, in retrospect!

    • Interesting. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope that you and your brother find each other over time. You both now hopefully know who you are and that neither of you is going to change, so hopefully you can find the common ground that you do share. At least to keep your families close should that opportunity arise.

  4. My son has started cracking his knuckles all the time. It annoys me a lot. Why would someone want to crack knuckles while playing soccer? I made him aware of his habit, but he is finding it hard to stop. This is the same kid who stopped sucking thumbs in two days when he was less than three years old. Just because he noticed that adults didn’t suck thumbs, and he couldn’t wait to grow up.

  5. My kids are both boys but they have the same general differences you describe. I also have been taking the approach that they are never too young for me to drop some truth on them. I think the 4 years apart mine are makes a difference, 2 years is close enough that there is a natural competition.

    Any tips for breaking a booger eater?

  6. Oh, siblings… your current dilemma could easily lead to an entire series of blog posts with input from many. If I had a single piece of “Wow!” effective advice, I would share it, but I don’t. Maybe I should send you a picture of the different parenting books I consulted at different stages. Haha.
    Best wishes on your parenting journey. It is an awesome journey, bickering and all!

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