Make Your After School Routine Work Using This Research-Backed Technique
It’s the start of a brand new school year, so help your child succeed this year by creating an after school homework and chore routine that gives them no excuse but to succeed.
Have you started routines before, but they didn’t work out?
Were you too busy to keep a consistent routine?
Do you give up because the kids refused stick to it?
Did the routine take up too much of your time and patience to manage?
I totally get it- but science says that having a consistent routine is the #1 reason why people in general are successful. It’s not due to IQ, fancy private schools, or extra curricular tutoring. Ordinary people can become extra-ordinary simply from using a routine to consistently make progress in their tasks and goals. This slow, but steady approach, is all it takes to succeed.
And the good news for your child is that no matter how much (or how little) they’ve struggled with school in the past, using a daily after school routine is all it takes most of the time to help your child get good (if not great) grades. This is because after school routines ensure that assignments are always completed on time (which is most of the grade anyway), your child is less stressed out (they don’t have to worry about last-minute deadlines), and they gain a sense of pride in themselves (getting good grades is a great self-esteem boost!).
Still not convinced?
Successful people in business, industry, and sports swear by routines. Sir Richard Branson believes in the power of routine so much that he wrote a blog post about it in order to share his experience with other people.
Instead of an afternoon routine, Branson wakes up early every day in order to bring consistent success to his career. While it might at first seem easy for a billionaire to wake up early and go about a routine, he points out that his routine, “is a habit, which [I] must work on to maintain.”
If billionaires make an effort to stick to a consistent routine in order to become successful, then this seems like a skill Modern Parents should be teaching to their kids too.
If we teach them this skill while they are young, just think about what they can accomplish when they are adults!So now that you might be convinced that creating an after school routine is something beneficial for your family, lets’ discuss how to make this routine successful right from the very start so that you are less likely to give up.
The best research I’ve found that teaches how to begin – and keep – a routine is Charles Duhigg’s “Habit Loop” theory.
In his AWESOME book called the The Power of Habit (my FAVORITE book on routine – see my review here), Duhigg describes a 3-step process that involves the brain’s influence on habit-formation. It is our brain that tricks and entices us to give up on habits, so if our kids are going to be successful at all in keeping up with this new after school routine, then we will need to get their brains on board. Believe it or not, our brains are our worst enemy when it comes to creating (and repeating) bad habits!
For example, many Modern Parents have a bad habit of watching too much tv instead of doing something more productive (unfortunately, I battle with this urge from this every day!). A lot of us have good intentions of coming home after work (or from something else equally taxing) and doing something productive. However, as we step into our house and see the tv on the wall and the remote sitting conspicuously on the couch, we almost automatically forget our good intentions, pick up the remote, and turn on some mindless show. It becomes hard to turn off the tv because we are instantly rewarded by our bodies feeling good from “vegging out” and our worries seem to be so far away.
Thus, I have just described Duhigg’s Habit Loop – cue, routine, reward – to paint the picture about how bad habits get repeated. (Note: I prefer James Clear’s slight change of Duhigg’s terminology of cue, routine, and reward to reminder, routine, and reward – which is what I will use in the remainder of this article).
The reminder of our bad habit was the tv and the remote. The routine was picking up the remote, turning on the tv, and “vegging out.” The reward was how relaxed and carefree we felt in the moment.Next, I will show you how to use this habit loop to create – and keep – good habits.
The 3 R’s – Reminder, Routine, Reward
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I believe that a big part of Modern Parenting is teaching our kids the tools they’ll need to independently be happy and successful. That is why I like the Habit Loop so much – once the parent sets up the loop, the child or teen independently maintains it.
Now let me walk you through the steps of the Habit Loop. My steps are similar to James Clear’s steps (you can read about those here), but my contribution to this theory is by making the Habit Loop make sense for families.
While Charles Duhigg originally created the Habit Loop for adults to follow all by themselves, I believe the Habit Loop can also be “tweaked” for parents to use to create an environment in the home to teach their kids how to be successful.
Step 1: Determine The Routine. This is the step where you’ll develop the after school routine. Know the basics of what you want accomplished (i.e. homework completed, instruments practiced, chores done, etc.). Here are a couple of tips to make this step even more successful:
- Make sure the routine is age-appropriate. You can’t expect a first grader to have a long, detailed routine similar to a high schooler’s routine. Start simple. You can always make it more complicated as your child gets used to the routine.
- Make sure the routine is appropriate for your particular child. For example, if your child struggles with attention difficulties or structure in general, then you’ll want to make sure the routine includes several small breaks. However, if your child can withstand long periods of homework or instrument practice, then feel free to schedule accordingly. Again, you can always start small and then make the routine more involved after some time has gone by and your child has gotten used to the routine.
- It’s always good policy to allow your child to have some say in the new routine. I’ve written before about how allowing kids some autonomy not only increases their buy-in for the new rule, but increases their creativity, follow-through, and overall responsibility. You can always let your child choose little tweaks to the routine, such as whether or not to do homework first before piano practice or vice versa.
This step will not be complete until you have determined a detailed routine. For example, here is a sample routine below:
Step 2: Determine The Reminder. Now you might have assumed that the reminder about the after school routine would come from you, but, remember, we want our kids to implement the routine INDEPENDENTLY, so you CANNOT be the reminder.
Charles Duhigg teaches that the reminder should be the the thing that automatically alerts the child to begin the routine. The reminder triggers the beginning of the routine. It’s important to note that whatever you choose to represent as the reminder, it has to be something that is very specific and unique to the routine.And, according to James Clear, the reminder can be 1 of 5 things:
- Time: The after school routine can begin at a certain time of the day.
- Location: The routine can be triggered by getting home from school, going to the library, or arriving at the after school day care.
- Preceding Event: Some families have very variable schedules, so events that happen just before the routine can also trigger it’s beginning, such as Mom or dad getting home from work, getting home after sports practice, or a certain favorite tv show ending.
- Other People: Other people can also be the reminder for certain routines. For example, a tutor can serve as a reminder to study, or a music instructor can trigger the child to get into “practice mode.”
- Emotional State: Many bad habits are triggered by emotional state such as overeating or smoking due to anxiety. It’s extremely hard to cue good habits based upon emotional state, but I left this reminder category here so that you can also see how some of your child’s (or your) emotional states can be cueing bad habits. This can help you change bad habits into more productive ones
I’ve always used time or preceding events as triggers for my family’s routines.
I’m VERY big on routines at my house – I’ve always been this way – so beginning routines at a certain time or after a certain event has always worked out well for my family.
Step 3: Define The Reward Again. if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I don’t believe in bribing kids – it just sets them up for a future of selfishness and failure. However, I do believe that there’s value in teaching our kids to define their own rewards. For a more in-depth view on rewarding Modern Kids, see this article.I know that natural rewards are best for kids, so make the rewards for completing the routine make sense.
For example, completing the routine can earn household privileges such as screen time, spending time with friends, or just “goofing off.”I also think that the best families have rewards that encourage closeness between parent and child, so in addition to earning the natural reward of participating in family privileges, Mom and Dad should also make themselves available to bond with the child. This can be done while the parent prepares dinner, while the parent and child watch a tv show together, or just spending time on a mutual hobby.
Modern Kids are ACHING to bond with their favorite people – their parents – so building in special bonding time with your child after completing the routine is it’s own reward.
Why The Habit Loop Works
Want to know the science behind why the Habit Loop works?
Remember how I said earlier that we need to get the brain on board with the new routine if we are going to be successful? It’s our brain that thwarts our best intentions 100% of the time!In the early 1990’s researchers at MIT decided to look into the brain’s role (specifically, the Basal Ganglia) in routines.
To do this, they hooked up tiny electrodes to the brains of tiny mice and then placed them in a maze to find a food reward. The mice were put in the bottom of a T-shaped maze (with a partition separating them from the rest of the maze), and the food was placed in the upper left portion of the T.
To start the experiment, the scientists blew a whistle and opened the partition. The mice leisurely found the chocolate – sometimes searching the right side of the T before finding the food in the left side of the T.
The scientists repeated the experiment with the same mice over and over – and they found some very important trends.It probably doesn’t surprise you that the mice learned quickly that when the whistle blew, that meant that the partition would immediately open and that food could be found in the left side of the T. They headed straight for the food without much exploring of the other parts of the maze.
What might surprise you, though, is what happened to the brains of the mice during this routine process.
They used more brain capacity at the start of the experiment than they did once the routine was learned. Their brains seemed to “turn off” once they learned the new routine – they performed the – now old – routine of finding the food without very much thought at all.Charles Duhigg interpreted the experiment in his book.
He stated that, As each rat learned how to navigate the maze, it’s mental capacity decreased. As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less… This process – in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine – is known as “chunking” and its at the root of how habits form.
”Our brains fight against the learning of new routines.
Why? Because it wants to repeat old routines.
For example, perhaps your kids tended to complain and push back when you’ve tried to implement after school study routines in the past. Their brains were on overdrive causing them to crave the old routine – goofing off – instead of this new routine (even though this routine was better for them).
In order to make a new routine stick, it helps when the brain has learned the desired routine so well that it “turns off” and performs the routine almost without thinking.
Once your child doesn’t need as much cognitive power to engage in the routine, your child will have more brain capacity during the routine for things such as learning the academic material, concentrating on the material in order to work efficiently and quickly, maintaining enough behavioral control to sit through enough time to complete the homework or instrument practice, etc.
Take Home Message
Successful adults swear by the power of routines. It can turn a Modern Kid with an average IQ at an average school into a high achiever.
Routines also help kids who have anxiety or attention/concentration problems become better students.
By using the Habit Loop – Reminder, Routine, and Reward – our kids learn how to independently and consistently carry out after school tasks that lead to less anxiety, better grades, and better parent-child relationships. This should be the year that your child dominates their academic classes and/or extra curricular activities.
Through setting up a home environment that includes a routine that gives them no other excuse but to do well in school, you are teaching them the life-long skill of positive habit formation.
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