If you are a parent and have young children, here are two concepts to consider.

Some habits are more important than others – the right habits have the power to transform your life.
— Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit 
The type of emotional support that a child receives during the first three and a half years has an effect on education, social life and romantic relationships even 20 or 30 years later.
— K. Lee Raby, Lead author of a study published in the journal: Child Development

Being a student of positive psychology, having a deep curiosity in human performance, and being a devoted father of three children 5 years and under, I’d like to share four simple activities that we do as a family in the attempt to shape their confidence, manners, and well being.

Baylor (5), Winnie (1), Bellamy (3)

Baylor (5), Winnie (1), Bellamy (3)

By no means do Kendra and I have everything figured out as parents – trust me, we fail a lot (is Mickey Mouse a legal babysitter?). Nor are our children perfect angels. We have our fair share of tantrums and timeouts. However, with the aim to guide our kids to be their best self, I’m going to share a few family rituals centered around what are called keystone habits. 

A keystone habit can spark chain reactions that help other good habits take hold. 

Below are four keystone habits that Kendra and I hope will set off a cascade of more good for Baylor, Bellamy, Winnie, and baby number four coming next month (prayers for sanity and sleep are welcome!).

1. Eat Meals Together As a Family


Eating together as a family around the table – especially dinner – may seem small, but has a huge impact.

As Duhigg writes in his book The Power of Habit, “Families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.”

We make it a point to sit down together, put our phones away, turn the TV off, and pretend like it’s the 1950’s and talk. We 100% make this a consistent routine. Kendra cooks one meal for everyone – even our 1.5 year old Winnie is expected to eat what is served. No one can leave the table without asking permission to be excused.

This nightly habit helps our kids to learn patience, discipline, and to expand their palate. These skills will serve them as they are older and this definitely pays off when we eat outside our house or at a dinner date (packing different food for the kids is too much work for us!). 

2. Thank You Cheer


One of Kendra and my non-negotiables as parents is to raise our little Hens with manners. The two pillars of having sound manners are these two phrases: Please and Thank You. 
A fun way we model and encourage this behavior is what we call the Thank You Cheer. While we are sitting down together as a family and our meal is served, whichever parent didn’t prepare the food (which 95% of the time is me) leads this group activity of thankfulness. 

This cheer was inspired by the “team breaks” I used to do as an athlete. After practice, we used to all put our hands in the middle of the huddle and all yell out the same word or phrase in unison.

When we are all sitting around the table as a family, we can’t put our hands together as a group (#shortarms #can’treach). Thus, each person puts one hand on top of their other hand – which signals they are ready to begin the cheer. Once all hands are in the correct position, on the count of three, we all lift our hands in the air and yell, “Thanks Mom (or Dad)!” 

This is a simple and fun interactive game that uses movement to practice the winning habit of simply saying, “thank you.” Often times if I forget, either Baylor or Bellamy will put their hands on top of each other to signal the Thank You Cheer. Gotta love the accountability! 

This is a fact that I know to be true: manners go a long way…especially saying these powerful words daily, “Thank you.”

3. Praying Out Loud Before We Eat

Bella is our resident prayer expert. She starts every prayer with, “Dear Jesus, we pray for our life…”

Bella is our resident prayer expert. She starts every prayer with, “Dear Jesus, we pray for our life…”

Public speaking was a big fear of mine in my teens and as a young adult. I wasn’t alone with this trepidation. National surveys show that more people fear giving a formal speech then death. 

Knowing this, we’ve tried to help our kids practice public speaking at a young age – even as simple as praying out loud. 

I usually lead our family in prayer, but several times a week (and now it seems almost daily) we let Baylor and Bellamy take turns praying out loud before we eat. We’ve noticed over time that both have improved in choosing their words and speaking with more confidence. Bellamy is more of a natural and will even volunteer to pray when we have guests over (this makes me a proud daddy), but Baylor has made great strides as well. Months before, he wouldn’t even participate, but after much practice, he now volunteers. 

This routine serves three purposes: 

  • It helps our kids establish a pattern of giving thanks
  • They get a microdose of public speaking practice
  • This encourages them to connect spiritually

We believe these are all great habits that one can’t enough of. 

4. Happy Breakfast/Super Excited Dinner

Henderson baby #4 coming soon!

Henderson baby #4 coming soon!

One weekend this winter, our entire house got hit with the Black Plague. It started with me and I passed this gift of death to our whole family. It was nasty. I mean, stuff was coming out of every orifice. 

This was Baylor’s first time throwing up and it really triggered what we call “Mr. Worry.” That experience was quite traumatic for him and he often would worry that it would come back again. 

The fear of getting sick even impacted his confidence and desire of going to school.  Because of this we had several tearful dropoffs. Especially when he overheard his teacher discussing with a parent about a student being sick. On this day, Kendra even had to come pick him up. 
Recognizing this pattern, Kendra and I have developed several strategies to quiet Mr. Worry. One of these techniques is called Happy Breakfast and Super Excited Dinner. Understanding the powerful effects that starting your day off with gratitude can have (ex: writing in a gratitude journal, saying prayers, etc), I created a game that the kids love. In the end, you can’t be grateful and fearful in the same time. 

How can you trick your kids into being grateful?….Make a game out of it. 

We all take turns going around the table sharing one thing that makes us happy. After each person shares, we count to three and all at once pound our clinched hands into the table and say together, “Happy!” 

This act helps us focus on positive things and gets the day started on the right foot – especially for Baylor. This helps him, and our entire family begin the day with a smile. 
Once we circle back as a family at dinner, we go around the table and share what made us super excited from the day – it could be an activity, a game, a toy, or even a person. After each person’s turn, we point our fingers in the air, twirl them around, then touch the table in a quiet almost whisper like voice and say, “Ssssssssuuuper excited.” (With a big emphasis on the “S”).
These exercises foster communication, dialogue, and tend to quiet Mr Worry. Winnie usually says she is either happy or excited about Moana, but I love to hear what B and B come up with each day. 

After doing this for several months now, the older kids usually lead this breakfast and dinner tradition. I’m proud to say that Baylor closed out the school year without any nerves being dropped off at preschool. A lot of this growth was his own doing, but I believe this daily habit played a significant role as well. 

Great read for parents with kids of all ages

Great read for parents with kids of all ages

What are you doing to improve your child’s well being?

Kendra and I are still learning each day as parents. We have our fair share of ups and downs. But, we believe that investing in our children’s development is like compound interest – the earlier and more we invest – the greater the return for them in the future. 

I hope these four rituals spark some fun and new habits for you and your family. Taking the time to love, model manners, and have fun as a family, are the greatest investments of all. 

Collin Henderson is the creator of Project Rise, which is a platform to help individuals be the best version of themselves.

Collin Henderson is the creator of Project Rise, which is a platform to help individuals be the best version of themselves.