3 Tips: How to Nudge a Child into Taking Ownership of a New Habit

Sunday morning we had a watershed event in our kitchen. At breakfast, I spoke to our child in Spanish, as I do each day and received answers in English. I work to counter feeling disheartened when my daily hints to reply in kind rarely work for more than a sentence. Everything was the same until, suddenly that morning in the chair across from me, a realization dawned.

“Mommy, why do you speak better Spanish than me?” At that long-awaited question, I smiled. My gratitude flowed for this new understanding our 10 year old brought to light. Where my direct approach to solicit Spanish had rarely worked, a common goal of speaking well in a Latin American country did.

After the goooooal! dance in my head, I replied in Spanish, “Well, I speak it at least two hours a day. I read and write in it every day… I practice more. And I’ve been studying it longer.” I am not a native speaker, our child knows, I learned my second language the hard way, verb by verb. As I talked about last year in the Great Bilingual Experiment, I promised myself that my son or daughter would start off with two languages. I wanted to spare them the suffering of the rote memorization of grammar and vocabulary. For a decade I’ve given it my best effort, with mixed results. Our child’s comprehension is high yet verbal output is low.

Our child sounded surprised, “You write in Spanish?”

“Yes, I write emails to friends and blog posts in Spanish,” I said.

“I want more books in Spanish.”


“Sure, we’ll get you more. And don’t worry, with more practice, you’ll speak more fluidly.”

We are going to Mexico in March. Spanish will be an asset in that destination. I’ve been talking for the last two weeks about how excited I am to communicate there in the language of the land. Seems the enthusiasm was contagious. “We can be interpreters for our family!” I said. Our child loved the idea of being in charge of helping a grownup.

Our weekend chat, I went in for the clincher. “What if we speak Español at breakfast too?”

“Yes, I want to,” our child agreed.

“Muy bien.” I smiled and kept it cool although inside I leapt for joy.

The lessons are no longer simply my idea. Our Sunday conversation was a reversal of our little person’s long-term reluctance to speak Español since monolingual preschool. The will to learn feels like a big reward for the hours I’ve put in reading, singing, playing, cajoling, and joking in Spanish. We have our special language time at the end of the day, with songs and prayers in castellano. And now, we’ll have breakfast too. Olé!

Today I’ll make a sticker chart to track our goal. Ten stickers earn a new book in Spanish! Here is a summary of my tips for a child to take ownership of a new habit:

  1. Align your goals, so that the child expresses willingness rather than imposing the habit (we want to speak Spanish to be ready for Mexico–not you have to speak Spanish more)
  2. Factual presentation of steps to achieve the new habit and agreement to practice (we will speak it at breakfast)
  3. Reward for following through supports the goal (sticker chart to earn Spanish books) See below for this week’s example.

What are your suggestions? How do you keep your resolutions to start a new habit? How do you implement change?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! Olé! -Rebecca

Para leer este ensayo en español, haz un clic en Qué hacer para que tu hija o hijo adopte un habito nuevo.

el desayuno         buenas noches
lunes 7 enero *                                   *
martes 8 enero *
miércoles 9 enero
jueves 10 enero
viernes 11 enero
sábado 12 enero
domingo 13 enero


Rebecca Cuningham

12 thoughts on “3 Tips: How to Nudge a Child into Taking Ownership of a New Habit

  1. Good job! It’s so interesting that children are often absorbing lessons (of all kinds) from their parents without the parents really knowing. It will be exciting to see how her language skills blossom while she’s in Mexico!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is always interesting the way children respond to ideas. Apparently learning to speak another language was not a desireable goal until there was a practical reason and probably also the new awareness that it was actually a learned skill and another person was better at it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Our ml home and commented:
    Fellow bilingual mum and blogger Rebecca Cuningham recently published a fantastic post entitled “3 Tips: How to Nudge a Child into Taking Ownership of a New Habit”, that contains her very interesting experience and tips to incite a child to develop the habit of using his or her minority language.

    Read up this food for thought post in this reblog Rebecca kindly authorised, and visit her blog, https://www.fakeflamenco.com/blog to discover her passion about Spanish, traveling, and raising her daughter bilingual!

    Liked by 1 person

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