Five ways to develop positive patterns

Dear St Andrew’s community,

As Elizabeth and I head toward another Year 12 graduation with our second child, James, we are getting ready to ask ourselves the inevitable questions about what life skills we have taught our son. He will soon head off to University in Brisbane and be responsible for many more things that in the past we have done.  As I speak with employers, particularly those employers who are dealing with teenagers or young adults, they refer to life skills they are looking for,  and again I ask myself: have we passed these on to our children?

I came across this interesting article titled ‘Poor patterns start with poor habits’.  It focussed on the concept of sticking at something, or seeing it through.  As we know, the seeds of our children’s inability to see things through are sown at a very young age. In this article, the example was Jeremy, a father, reflecting on the things he had done or had not done to build resilience in his son.  In Primary School when subjects became too hard, his son would make excuses and give in. His parents would often be at school pleading their son’s case for teachers to ease up: “He’s only little. Don’t push him too hard!” was the approach they’d take.

Jeremy’s son also chopped and changed with leisure and sporting activities, rarely seeing any activity through to completion. As soon as he met with difficult people, didn’t get his own way or the learning/competition became too hard, he gave in and went on to try something else.

Jeremy allowed him to keep changing activities in the hope that he would find something he was good at. In doing so, his son developed the habit of avoidance. Eventually, this habit after so many repetitions became a life pattern, which is difficult to break.

Now, as an adult, when he meets with resistance or difficulty at work and in relationships, his immediate response is to look for new opportunities rather than work through the difficulties to achieve mastery. The pattern of avoidance has become so ingrained that his son simply cannot see anything difficult through. The tragedy of course, is that a worthwhile achievement of any kind, whether it’s getting a qualification, mastering a musical instrument or learning a new language, will always present significant challenges that need to be worked through. By continually giving up, this young man will never achieve anything of significance, unless he adopts a new pattern, which takes considerable commitment and work.

So how do we help our children develop positive life patterns?

The habits that parents encourage in their children will eventually become entrenched, so it makes sense to encourage positive habits from the earliest possible age. Here are five positive habits to develop in children that with practice, repetition and parental encouragement will become positive patterns or ways of behaving that generally stay for life:

1. Pattern of contribution: This pattern starts by parents developing the helping habit in their children. Expect your kids to help you and others without being paid or getting pocket money 'for' jobs. It’s a pattern that leaders in every field display.

2. Pattern of self-sufficiency: This pattern starts by parents encouraging children to look after themselves; do simple life tasks and take increasing personal responsibility for their behaviour as they become older. Doing too much for children or doing it for them after they fail to do something puts the breaks on the self-sufficiency pattern.

3. Pattern of problem-solving: This wonderful pattern starts when parents give children ownership of their mistakes and challenges, allowing them to find their own solutions to problems. Rescuing and micro-managing children develops the pattern of dependence, which is an endemic among today’s twenty-somethings.

4. Pattern of help-seeking: Past generations are renowned for keeping adversity close to their chests rather than reaching out and seeking help and assistance from friends and family, or professional help, when needed. Encourage help-seeking behaviours in children and young people so that help-seeking becomes a normalised, accepted pattern when life gets tough.

5. Pattern of expressing gratitude: Ever noticed how some people seem to have so much in terms of wealth, possessions and talent yet they never seem happy with what they have, while others who may have very little in terms of material possessions are thankful for the little things that happen in life? This pattern of gratitude was more than likely established in childhood. It is a wonderful resilience attribute that contributes so much to a person’s happiness and well-being.

As a parent, it is empowering to know that the habits we encourage in our children usually become ingrained as patterns of behaviour that stay for life. As we enter the season of ‘end of year’ events, our response to what happens is also a pattern we can model and a positive habit we can build in our children.

Best wishes, 

Reverend Chris Ivey