Children are influenced by their surroundings. It’s important to start young when teaching them habits, especially considering that children develop habits by age nine. Both bad and healthy habits can be hard to break.

The earlier we introduce healthy habits, the more likely these habits will stick for years to come.

Do It Now, Not Later

Take advantage of your child’s formative years and show them the most important habits they should follow so you can make sure they’ll continue them as they mature. Don’t postpone this until you feel like your child can understand what you’re talking about — they probably process and pick up on more things than you realize.

Look at handwashing for instance. It’s an easy habit you can teach very early on. Lead by example, and make it a point to emphasize how you wash your hands because you know it’s important.

Introduce the habit to children by reminding them of every time you’re washing your hands. Ask them to join you, and sing a song together to make sure you’ve washed your hands long enough. This turns the habit into a game and allows children to associate feelings of fun and positivity with handwashing.

When your child grows old enough to master handwashing, you can start explaining when they must wash hands, such as before eating, after playing, after sneezing or coughing and after using the restroom.

Help Children Learn Self-Control

Even as adults, it’s difficult to make the right decisions every time. Now think of how difficult it must be for a child to prioritize eating healthful snacks over sugary treats.

It’s easy to not consider this an issue, but children who learn self-control at an early age are set up for more success later in life. It’s important to, again, lead by example, and help children develop self-control when they’re still young.

Teach children about healthy eating habits and how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their diet. Turn dinnertime into a bonding experience. Give kids age-appropriate tasks to help out in the kitchen as you make dinner.

Make healthy snacks easily accessible for kids, too. One of the reasons they opt for sugary treats is because they’re ready to grab on the go. Pre-sliced vegetables and fruit in snack-sized containers — on a shelf in the fridge that the kids can reach — make healthy eating more convenient and appealing.

There are also many children’s books available that can teach about healthy eating habits, as well as other good habits you want your children to learn. Make a day of visiting the library and finding these books together.

Breaking Bad Habits Is Difficult

Habits are actions and behaviors we perform subconsciously, and they’re insanely difficult to break. This is because when we form and repeat habits, the chemical dopamine is released to the brain, causing a feeling of pleasure and a strengthened habit.

This is why it’s so important for your children to develop healthy habits from an early age.

Make it easy for your child to form healthy habits. Maybe every day when they come home from school, they head straight to the fridge for those sliced fruits and veggies, or they’re enrolled in a weekly gymnastics or sports program. Another healthy habit could be playing outside for 30 minutes before starting on homework.

Whatever the habit, make it easy to adopt and continue.