Changing our habits can be fun
Author: dr. Jernej Sever
Imagine a group of seven-year-olds getting dressed when you are in a hurry to bring them to school or kindergarten on time and of course you do not want to be late for work. Children talk, climb, crawl, act, show their toys, discuss current cartoons, tell their parent, teacher or coach about that. They ask whatever comes to their mind. They look for lost socks. They ask you to tie their laces. They put on their pants turned inside out.
In this way, children get to know the world around them. They are playful. And they are just as they should be, as children. Of course, they are not overly effective at the task they do or should do. This is why parents or teachers are often in bad mood. We start to get angry, we raise our voice trying to establish authority. Maybe the kids even hear us at first, but because they know that we parents and teachers are rarely completely consistent, their motivation to get dressed is quickly gone. This is understandable, because what they do is more interesting than getting dressed.
However, doing any boring task, such as getting dressed, quickly can also be solved in a very simple way. If we set a clear goal for the children and make a dramatic start and announcement of the game and present its rules clearly, we will almost certainly get the attention of the children. So we have to make it clear to the kids that they are playing a game and only have five minutes to change and clean their dressing room. If done correctly and on time, they will win a certain title, such as the title of best dragon.
Although the reward, the external motivation, is not the main motive for the game, it is important for the game to have a clear goal and result. Because children love to play and have an in-born motive for playing, they will certainly participate in it. If the time for getting dressed has been reasonably timed, probably all children will be successful in completing the task. There is no need to emphasize who was first and who was second. Everyone who has successfully completed the task can be rewarded.
In terms of learning and exercise, this approach has many positive dimensions. Children learn how to focus their attention. They practise on the basis of their own desire to participate. Being independent in the game, they realize that they can do certain things with their own will. They learn about their behaviors and abilities. Because we trust them to perform the task on their own, they develop their confidence and social skills they will need later in life.
This simple model can be transferred to other areas. Through the game and playfulness, we can use more relaxed approach to confront different problems we face in our daily lives. The game thus enables us to successfully solve complex problems on the basis of goal-oriented activities and to develop different skills in a healthy, pleasant and competitive atmosphere. The game is not limited to children, it can also help adults cope with certain habits and form new behaviors in a relaxed and open way. In order to organize activities successfully , some principles must be observed,such as consistency, clear rules, equal opportunities in achieving goals, without early exclusion and good cooperation between parents, teachers, coaches and children.
Consistency and clear rules are two of the main conditions for the game to work. For example, if the football rules were not obeyed, players would quarrel and reject to play. Consistency is also an important element of maintaining authority. When we asked children why they were more cooperative with some teachers than others, they usually said that because they were sticking to the agreed rules. Activities and games should therefore be designed in such a way, that participants have enough time to reach the set goals. Consequently, criteria and goals should be adapted to individual age groups and individuals’ abilities. When practising physical and behavioral skills, our main goal is for participants to acquire a certain habit or skill. Some kids will find it harder and longer to achieve a certain skill, but their success is not less important.
Successful development of movement and behavioral skills is such a complex process that we have to be consistent and persistent. In order to achieve that participants are properly motivated, the training process must be interesting, must have clear goals, a sufficient number of participants, and be supported by the social environment. Since we rarely meet all these conditions, we have created a platform called “My Skills”, which provides support to parents, teachers, coaches in organizing targeted activities.
In order to simplify and modernize the training process, we developed the My Skills application and prepared some examples of programs that can be organized via an online platform. These programs can be used, or taken as an example or as a basis, to design your own training programs.