Healthy Habits for Kids – Making Routines Stick

Healthy Habits for Kids – Making Routines Stick

25 April 2022 • Words by Karla Pretorius 3 mins

As someone diagnosed with ADHD, I often hear, “you have to create more routines.” Although this might be a great practice, my ADHD traits, which can be pretty rebellious, usually stick it out for not more than a week. I found a hack that is extremely helpful in my life – creating a purpose for my routines and labeling these as “healthy habits” rather than “must-do routines.” According to van der Weiden et al. (2020), it is essential to increase self-control when creating routines. If we want to increase self-control and healthy habits in our kids, we need to focus on improving their motivation to complete these tasks first.


If we tell our children what they need to do daily, they might feel managed.

They might disagree with the importance we place on why a bed needs to be made every day. Or why it is necessary to take a shower when we don’t see dirt on us. We can include our children more in creating a routine where we ask them to list what they feel is essential to do daily. Perhaps some of our children will choose to play, eat snacks, and go to the swimming pool. Others may choose to play with their pets and friends as more important. These are great and valid and should be included in their daily schedule. If we then have our important tasks, such as eating vegetables, tidying up and bath time (for example), we need to ensure that we add the reasons why too.


We can then include their interests in our list of responsibilities for them. For example, they have to eat their vegetables to be healthy enough to play with their friends. They should tidy up to ensure no one breaks their toys by stepping on them. Bath time is vital to ensure they stay healthy and clean. Sharing how you include your responsibilities and creating a purpose for going to the bank, as an example, can also help your child realize it is not “the world trying to get them” but perfectly normal to complete tasks that might not be all that fun.

Some other helpful tips to ensure routines turn into healthy habits for our kids:

Responsibility jars

I had a discussion with Bea Moise (click here), a parent coach, who explained what she calls “responsibility jars” and added tasks for children that they need to complete in a day. They can do these as quickly as they want or as slowly, but they need to be completed. This allows a child to control their list of responsibilities and the speed at which they will do this.


Motivation station

If your child knows that they are doing things for a specific purpose, the task should be more motivating. But we all need a bit of extra motivation sometimes to complete the more monotonous tasks. For example, the admin of a change in address at the bank. Why don’t we plan these at a specific time of the week and then make sure we have a fun break scheduled afterward? We can do the same for our children. If they complete all their homework, they can take a break at the swimming pool or go for a long walk with their dog.


Proud parent

I started a book, “I am proud of myself for…,” with one of my clients diagnosed with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). We wrote down three things every day that she was proud of accomplishing. This activity took a bit of time to bear fruit, but she can now complete all her tasks and her “Proud Pad” is nearly full. It is always a good idea to affirm your child’s attempts at completing their routine. It also allows you to focus on positive reinforcement instead of the nagging “did you do your homework” parent. We all want a bit more consistent focus on the positive in the world. And who knows, your kids might surprise you with their ability to create positive, healthy habits sooner than you think!


Do you have a neurodivergent child and want to learn more about building routines and habits for them? Check out our blog, Routines and Habits for Neurodivergent Kids – ASD & ADHD.




van der Weiden, A., Benjamins, J., Gillebaart, M., Ybema, J. F., & de Ridder, D. (2020). How to Form Good Habits? A Longitudinal Field Study on the Role of Self-Control in Habit Formation. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 560.

  • Karla Pretorius