Developing Habits – Good or Bad

Every child, in fact every person, is going to develop habits. One of the keys to a good life (or a good community, society) is the development of more good habits and less bad ones! Now, in a number of articles I’ve written here on the blog earlier I’ve made very clear that I’m not one of those educators who believes that everything important to be learned must be ‘taught’. However, I do believe it is a fundamental part of our work to ensure that when we create learning climates/ environments in schools we create climates within which the likelihood is that more of the students will develop more of the ‘good habits’ more of the time.

If we have schools within which children are developing habits such as aggression, greed, selfishness, bullying, cynicism then I believe we are duty bound to look at the practices, habits, ways of working of the Institute and all the people in it to determine whether these are, in some way, contributing. I fully acknowledge that school doesn’t exist in an isolated bubble. Rather, it exists as one element in the lives of children along with the family, home and the wider world (including all the media they are exposed to). Nevertheless, this shouldn’t tempt us to wash our hands or excuse ourselves. Lots talk about educating ‘the whole child’ or holistic education, but can be slow to really apply deep thought to how this is done. If school routine sets children in competition with each other, where they develop in an environment of ‘zero sum’ game mentality, then we should not shy away from acknowledging that we are ‘part of the problem, contributing to habits in children/ character traits that will reflect belief in a ‘zero sum’ world.

By ‘zero sum’, I mean a climate within which people see resources and ‘good things’ as being finite and limited. If we see them in this way, we will believe that there is only a limited amount to go around and that therefore we need to do whatever it takes to get more of that resource for ourselves. This can relate to something as simple as attention from a teacher, marks, praise, recognition, or fun. If a child believes unconsciously that there is a finite and limited supply of these things, then they will develop habits that reflect those beliefs. They are more likely to ‘fight’ to get what they want, to adopt aggressive behavior or put others down (your weakness = my strength).

It was a result of thinking about such issues that I found the following two articles really interesting. The first is a report from the BBC that details some simple experiments with positive results – children who practiced specifically carrying out random acts of kindness were both happier and more popular with their peers: BBC Report – Kindness

In addition to taking up approaches such as this where we encourage children to deliberately and consciously carry out random acts of kindness and diarize them, I believe most schools would also benefit from introspective processes that engage all stakeholders to question and analyze whether or not the school climate and environment is conducive to kindness and altruism, or whether there are hidden messages that actually inadvertently steer children in the opposite direction.

The second article comes from Scholastic and takes a broader look at the benefits to be achieved by developing a habit of giving. Scholastic Article – Children Changing the World

Here in India I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of the Design for Change (started out as Design for Giving) initiative started by Riverside School, Ahmedabad. I believe that if schools combine these two aspects – specific projects and initiatives related to giving and regular small scale development of habits of kindness – then, we can improve our chances of developing a generation of children with positive habits towards others who are far less likely to develop unproductive habits in their relations with others. The chances for a world within which more people approach kindness, generosity and positive social behavior with a sense of abundance are worth working for.


One Response

  1. I am an architect and urban planner. At work, I had the opportunity to organize a workshop in which students from the Univ of Minnesotta i the US worked side by side with students from Katha Khazana school which is located in the Govindpuri slums. I found both sets of students to be tremendously sentive, empathetic and intuitive as well as genuinely caring. Here’s my post….

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