The Power of Habits

Some brief thoughts on Habits and Parenting (based on a presentation given by Krissy Pozatek): Most of our behavior is not a result of a decision, but are habits. The Basal Ganglia is a nub of neurologic tissue in the center of the brain where behavior patterns are stored. Our brains try to make any behavior a habit. When a pattern is stored in the brain, it becomes automatic and brain activity decreases. Once a habit is encoded, it never disappears. This is both positive and negative. We can create new habits on top of the old.

Parent-Child Relationships are often encoded thoughts. Many of these patterns started in the toddler years and parents may not even be aware of their reactions and responses to their child.

Some examples:

  • When a child shuts down a parent may have an encoded habitual response of anxiety or to rescue.
  • When a child has a temper tantrum a parent may have an encoded habitual response to tip toe around the situation, try to fix the problem, or yell.
  • When a child escapes to the computer, parents may have encoded feelings of anxiety, anger, or powerlessness.
  • When a child is unmotivated, not following through, and being lazy, parents may have an encoded habitual response to become over involved, micro manage, or nag.

Parents can’t control their child’s behavior, all they can do is control their own behavior. A parent responding to an old situation with a new response equals a new pattern, which begins the change process. Parents can begin to increase their self awareness (awareness of thoughts, feelings, behaviors). They can identify and own their own patterns (rescuing, yelling, withdrawing, fixing, lecturing, catastrophizing, avoidance, micromanaging). As parents and families learn new skills, the entire system can engage in a growth process and create new outcomes.

Mistakes happen and create a great opportunity for accountability and modeling.

“I saw that you were upset and crying and I stepped in and rescued you again, rather than just listening. I am sorry and I am working to change my patterns”.

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg offers a deeper understanding of how to change our habits. It draws on recent research in experimental psychology, neurology, and applied psychology.


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