In today’s increasingly chaotic, and — depending on who you ask — downright depressing world, many of us are seeking ways to bring more balance into our lives by taking better care of ourselves and our families.
But for busy kids with even busier parents, self-care practices are easily lost with the onset of the busy school year. Enter habit tracking — your family’s secret wellness and productivity weapon.
Cultivating a family habit tracking practice in conjunction with the new school year is a fun and effective way to establish a successful weekday routine and ensures that good habits don’t go to the wind on weekends.
The best part: It’s perfect for kids preschool-aged and older, and even works wonders for parents. (In case you need a reminder: Caring for yourself is a necessary part of caring for others.)
Watching connections between habits emerge becomes surprisingly motivational as you begin to see how, for example, going to bed before 10 p.m. correlates with getting your morning gym time in. Or, for your second-grader, that remembering to bring home their homework folder results in turning homework in on time.
Habit-tracking is one of those tiny life changes that ends up making a big difference. Here’s how to get started:
Choose your habits
Create a manageable (and age-appropriate) list of daily positive habits. These can include physical and mental tasks, responsibilities, chores and hobbies — no habit is too small to track!
Parents might include things like: Drink six glasses of water, do one hour of exercise, practice mindful parenting, take medication, balance budget, “unplug” by 7 p.m.
Habits for kids in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school might include: Shower or bath, brush teeth, put toys away, read 20 minutes, be respectful to those around me, bring home lunchbox.
Preteens and teenagers could list habits such as: two hours or less of screen time, practice positive self-talk, practice a hobby or sport, do homework, take out trash.
Pro tip: In addition to daily habits, you can also make a shorter list of weekly and monthly habits and add them separately to your tracker.
Make your habit tracker
I love the ritual of taking time to artfully create and decorate my chart each month because it feels more intentional — and if done together, it makes for good family bonding time.
Habit trackers are super simple to make and you can be as creative as you like with them. Using graph paper or a ruler, create a chart with your list of habits in a vertical column, and all the days of the month in a horizontal row numbering them or marking the days of the week (or both).
If adding weekly and monthly tasks, make two smaller charts for those. There’s loads of habit tracking inspiration and ideas on Pinterest.
Take a gander, find a setup that works best for you, and bust out the pens. For younger kids, or those less creatively-inclined, you can print a free template to fill in and decorate each month.
Pro tip: If you don’t have the time or if digital is more your fam’s style, try one of these apps and skip steps two and three.
Choose a space
Bullet journals are commonly used for habit tracking, but if the whole family is on board, designating a high-traffic visible area or space in each family member’s bedroom to display your habit trackers helps ensure accountability.
Pro tip: To avoid getting derailed on the hunt for a pen or markers, fix a lightweight container to your habit tracker to hold a few pens.
Fill out your chart
The success of habit tracking lies in its role as a tangible and constant visual reminder. For some, checking off boxes with a simple “x” is satisfying while others may delight in filling theirs in with cheerfully colored markers or gel pens, and younger kids might be inclined to use stickers.
Pro tip: Choose the same time each day to fill out your chart and stick with it. Usually the end of the day works best, but you can opt to fill out the prior day’s boxes in the morning, too.
In an ideal world, 100 percent of your trackers would be filled in, but strive for progress rather than perfection — it takes time for habits to become second-nature.
Setting individual and family-wide goals for a percentage of habits successfully tracked and upping the ante with celebratory rewards at the end of the month helps bolster initiative.
Pro tip: For family rewards, focus on experiences together rather than stuff: a trip to the movies, a day at the art museum or zoo or a picnic with an array of foodie favorites are fun ways to celebrate your collective success.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018, and updated in September 2019.