Back to School: How to Help Your Children (and You) Form Good Habits.

In the United States, it’s back-to-school time. And that means getting back into the habits required by school.

So many things to manage! Waking up on time and going to bed on time. Packing the backpack for school, with homework, permissions slips, lunch, sports clothes, etc. Doing homework. Showing up promptly throughout the day. Plus, many children have after-school activities, so there’s just that much more to remember.

The question is: how can we help children form habits that will help them handle this load, without our constant nagging and supervising?

I’ve thought a lot about this myself, because each year when school begins, it hits my family hard. We have to work to get back into the swing of routine. Upholder that I am (see below), I relish this routine, but the other members of my family don’t agree.

In my book Better Than Before, about habit-formation, I learned one key fact that many habit experts ignore. There is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habits. The thing that works for me may be the opposite of what works for you. We need to form habits in a way that suits our nature. And the same is true for kids.

In Better Than Before, I identify 21 strategies that we can use to master our habits. So there are many from which to choose, as you try to help your child. Consider, for example:

Strategy of Convenience — this is the most universal strategy. We’re all more likely to do something if it’s easy to do it. So make it easy for your child to stick to a habit. If you want him to hang up his coat, clear out the closet so there’s plenty of room, or put in hooks that are quicker to use than hangers. If you want her to practice an instrument every afternoon, figure out a way so that all the equipment can stay at the ready, instead of needing to be hauled out and put away every time she practices.

Strategy of Inconvenience — likewise, we’re less likely to do something if it’s a pain. If you want him to stop sneaking cookies, put the cookies in a hard-to-open container on a high shelf. If you want her to stop hitting the snooze alarm in the morning, put the alarm clock across the room, so she has to get out of bed to turn it off.

Strategy of Distinctions — people are very different from each other, but we parents often try to make our children form the habits that work for us. Don’t assume that because something works for you — that you work best in a space that’s very quiet and spare, or you think most clearly early in the morning, or you like to get everything finished well before the deadline, or you like to have a lot of supervision — that the same is true for your child. Pay close attention to how that child works best.

I made this mistake with my older daughter. When I work, I must be at a desk, and I kept trying to get her to work at a desk, instead of sitting in a chair or on her bed. It drove me crazy. How could she be productive on her laptop, when she was sprawled across her bed? Finally, light dawned. Just because I work best at a desk doesn’t make that a universal law of human nature.

Strategy of Abstaining — this strategy works well for some people, but not for others. Talk to your child, and explain, “For some people, it’s too hard to have a little bit of something, or to do something for a little while. They find it easier to give something up altogether. Do you think that for you, it would be easier to stop ________ [playing that favorite video game, using that app] than to try to do it just a little bit? Or maybe just do it on the weekend?” Your child may surprise you. Maybe not, but maybe.

Strategy of Other People — to a huge degree, we’re influenced by other people’s habits. So if you want your children to adopt a habit, adopt that habit yourself. If you want them to be organized in the morning, be organized yourself. If you want them to go to sleep on time, go to sleep on time yourself. If you want them to put down their devices and read a book, put down your device.

Strategy of Foundation — It’s easier to stick to our good habits when we have a strong foundation. That means getting enough sleep; not letting yourself get too hungry; getting some exercise; and (for most people) keeping our physical space reasonably orderly. So to help your child manage habits well, make sure to emphasize things like bedtime, not skipping meals, physical activity, and clutter.

Strategy of the Four Tendencies — In this personality framework, I divide all of humanity into four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell a child’s Tendency until young adulthood — but some Tendencies are obvious from a very young age.

To figure out your Tendency, here’s a Quiz (more than 500,000 people have taken it). You could ask your child to take the Quiz, or read the short description of the Tendencies here— in many cases, you will very easily identify your child’s Tendency.

Or here’s an extremely over-simplified version, but to give you an idea:

If your child seems to need little support during the school year, that child is probably an Upholder.

If your child asks a lot of questions, and says things like, “But what’s the point of memorizing the state capitols?” “I didn’t do that homework because it’s a waste of my time, and the teacher is an idiot,” your child is probably a Questioner.

If your child is able to do tasks when given reminders, deadlines, supervision, but struggles to do things on his or her own, that child may be an Obliger.

If, to a very noticeable degree, your child wants to do things in his or her own way and own time, that child is probably a Rebel. If you ask or tell a Rebel to do something, that Rebel is very likely to resist. It’s very helpful to identify a Rebel early, because the strategies that work for the other Tendencies often backfire with Rebels! It’s not the case that “all toddlers are Rebels” or “All teens are Rebels.”

In just about every situation, it’s extremely helpful to know a person’s Tendency, because it makes a big difference in what works. For instance, the Strategy of Accountability is crucial for Obligers; often helpful but perhaps not necessary for Upholders and Questioners, but counter-productive for Rebels! Supervision, nagging, and reminders will make a Rebel child less likely to keep a habit.

The Four Tendencies framework is a huge subject. In fact, right now I’m finishing up an entire book about the Four Tendencies, and how to use them in different situations. (Update: The Four Tendencies is now available and was an instant New York Times bestseller.)

If you want to hear more, you can also listen to discussions on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. Elizabeth and I have talked about it several times, for instance, here.

How about you — have you found any strategies or tips for helping a child to form good habits? The pressures of school make it very clear that for children as well as for adults, having helpful habits makes life a lot easier.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Avel Chuklanov.

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The Nuts and Bolts of Better Boundaries

When I worked in environmental and human rights non-profits, my colleagues often applauded me for having “good boundaries.” I was confused at first, since I’d always considered myself a people-pleaser.

But what my colleagues meant, and what they were so impressed by, amounted to the simple fact that I didn’t let anyone treat me like a doormat. When I needed to, I set limits that people weren’t used to.

When we work in passion-based settings, those limits can sometimes go out the window. We mix the personal and professional. Going “above and beyond” is considered the baseline. And we begin to personally identify with our work. These expectations (and their consequences) can be exhausting, and harmful.

What is a good boundary?

This might look like setting your phone to do not disturb. It might mean keeping certain things private in certain settings (like social media). You might limit the amount of time or energy that you put into a project at any given time.

Great boundaries are entirely customized to each individual. What’s a boundary for you might not be for me, and vice versa. Boundaries are at their most effective when they are meaningful and well-tailored to your personal limits.

Our boundaries govern what we’re willing to share, what we’re willing to give, and what we’re willing to spend, whether it’s our money, our time or our energy. You might need different boundaries with different people. Some people need clearer lines than others.

We might also need boundaries to get our needs met: both from others and from ourselves. Ultimately, boundaries are limits we set that support and nourish us, and keep the vampires (energetic and otherwise) at bay.

What’s your line in the sand?

When you start creating better boundaries, a good place to start is with your non-negotiable boundaries. This is about what you need in order to feel safe and respected, at a bare minimum.

Make note of where your hard limits are that, if crossed, spell the end of a relationship (professional or personal). These are your deal-breakers.

Where is your line in the sand?

When you know where the absolute limit is, you can work backward from there to develop other boundaries that go beyond safety and protect your well-being on all levels. This line in the sand gives you a chance to practice, so that over time you’re about to set boundaries on a more subtle level.

Where are your boundaries leaking?

Leaky boundaries often feel like frustration: that people aren’t meeting your needs; that you have overcommitted again; that your priorities are being trampled; that people didn’t read your mind.

While, it’s obviously ideal if others step in and honor your boundaries, sometimes you need to advocate for yourself. Let go of the guilt you felt about setting the boundary. Stop making exceptions or excuses.

I get it. Setting boundaries is difficult enough. Enforcing them can be even more challenging. It can bring up a lot of feelings, especially if we don’t think we’re worthy of setting those limits. Start plugging up the leaks in your boundaries. They’ll function a whole lot more effectively.

How can you make your boundaries more effective?

Once you start creating these new structures in your life, it becomes deeply empowering. Once you start cleaning up what hasn’t been working in one area of life, may find yourself creating boundaries in all areas of your life.

Feel free to edit ruthlessly. If you need more time, space, money, privacy or anything else, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Call yourself on your bullshit. Start getting honest with yourself about those habits that aren’t serving you. Respect your limitations as much as you expect others to. Break those old habits and decide to rewire your attitude about what you need and deserve.

My actual best advice? Practice, practice, practice. Build your boundary-setting muscle. You will probably shock people at first. They may not like watching you grow in your power in this way. But this discomfort is normal and entirely survive-able.

What happens when boundary is crossed?

First, forgive yourself. It happens, and it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

Give yourself some TLC when there has been hurt. Heaping blame on yourself won’t solve the problem, so stay compassionate with yourself.

Then address the root cause. Did you create a leak in your boundary or did someone disrespect it? Either way, look at why this happened. If it was your leaky boundary, remember self-forgiveness and make a plan to plug that leak!

If it was someone else, speak up. You can be as direct as: “That crossed my boundary. Don’t do it again.” If someone repeatedly disrespects your boundaries, let the relationship go.

Remember that boundaries are acts of devotion.

Boundaries are a form of devotional practice toward yourself and your needs and your full humanity. They are like prayers for the more world we want to live in. @ChristyTending (Click to Tweet!)

By setting and respecting our boundaries, we’re teaching others how to respect and love us well. The person who will be upset at you for doing that? They don’t have your best interests at heart.

Instead, if you want to have your own back, boundaries are a great place to start.

Tell me in the comments: Do you struggle with boundaries? How will you start to plug up your leaky boundaries today?

Christy Tending is an activist, writer, teacher, and self-care mentor for rebellious humans. She is the creator of The Art of Self-Advocacy and lives in Northern California with her extraordinary family. She makes her online home at You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Nadine Shaabana.

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The emotional, mental and physical aspects of life have unique cycles. These cycles are: the seven year cycle of the emotional body; the 11 year cycle of the mental body; the 18 year cycle of the physical body. There are also certain times in life when the end/beginning moments of these periods nearly coincide with one another — when two or three of these cycles form periods of combined influence. These are known as proportional clusters. An example is when the 18 year cycle of your physical body — occurs near the 21 year (3×7) cycle of your emotional body — occurring right next to the 22 years (2×11) cycle of the mental body.

Charting these cycles and clusters reveals a map of life’s influences. Life is not happen chance — it’s a chartable opportunity that unfolds under predictable influences. Knowing this puts important science into the art of living.

When you use this measurable and predictable nature of science — in combination with the creative and joyful style of art — you have an accurate and joyful life.

Some practical references of these cycles: The seven year cycle of the emotional body has been referred to as: “The seven year itch” and “Break a mirror — you get seven years bad luck.” The 11 year cycle of the mental body is identical to the 11 year cycle of the Sun’s solar storms . . . light photons (that feed the pineal gland in the brain) storming toward Earth. The 18 year cycle of your physical body refers to — all the cells of your body are known to be replaced every eighteen years . . . you are never older than 18, except for your memories. This is why it is so vital for you to recapitulate your memories through meditation . . . hold the great ones close to your heart, and release painful charges from bad ones . . . bad memories without this charge are instructive lessons.

Our prayer is that you honor all your bodies: feed your physical body with great nutrition, exercise and rest; feed your emotional body with effective and cleansing meditation — reshaping your responses to the moments of life; feed your mental body with the discipline of constructive thinking (mindfulness) . . . do this with both the science of knowledge, and the art of joy.

Guru Singh is a world-renowned yoga instructor, author, musician, and family man. Guru Singh works with the Dalai Lama, teaches with Tony Robbins, and has recorded an album with Grammy® Award-winning artist Seal. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out Guru Singh’s most recent book: Buried Treasures: The Journey From Where You Are to Who You Are.

Image courtesy of Marcus Dall Col.

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