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New Year’s Resolution? How to make sure you are the 1 person out of 5 who sticks with it!

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

In January, many people make new year’s resolutions. And if you are reading this blog post, chances are that one of them is to teach your child to read and write in your home language(s). Various statistics show that only 1 person out of 5 achieves their goals.

Let’s make YOU that 1 out of 5!!

In his excellent book Atomic habits, the author James Clear divides habits into 4 components:

1) The CUE: This is what reminds us of doing something.

2) The CRAVING: This is the emotion that makes us WANT to do something. We have in mind the immediate reward (4th component) that brings us SATISFACTION. The more satisfaction it brings, the quicker the habit is formed.

3) Response to the craving: This is when you accomplish the habit itself. An important point James Clear makes is that this response to craving depends on your ability. If you want to run 10 km but are breathless just running after the bus when you are late is not a good idea as it won’t allow the fourth step to take place: the reward.

4) The Reward: This is the feeling of satisfaction you get after you complete the habit. It is what consolidates your habit and encourages you to do it again later.

You can see that all of it is based on IMMEDIATE POSITIVE FEELINGS. And it is important to keep in mind that these immediate positive feelings can lead you to good OR bad habits.

The other crucial point to make sure a habit is formed is that the physical or mental effort that the habit demands does NOT outweigh the reward (i.e.: One shouldn’t mind the effort that is required to eventually experience the immediate positive emotion.)

Now that we have detailed the different components, let’s see how you can form habits that will help you teach your child to read and write in your home language(s).

First of all, it is important to keep in mind the following:

When it comes to creating a habit to teach your child to read and write in your home language(s) the TWO people involved i.e. your CHILD and YOU, need to get satisfaction out of it. The REWARD needs to be enjoyed by both of you. Similarly, the effort to get to the goal should not outweigh the positive feeling you both get out of it. If one does not enjoy this new habit or feels like the reward is not worth the effort, it will be very difficult to keep it going.

Now, let’s illustrate each point using two habits you might want to establish: bedtime story and more explicit literacy work in your home language.

The CUE:

This needs to be part of your daily / weekly routine. It must be something that is already established. And because it is already established, whenever it occurs, you and your child are both reminded about the habit.

Bedtime story:

The cue could be your bedtime routine. Your child brushes their teeth, puts on their pyjamas, and here, you can insert the bedtime story routine. So whenever you start your bedtime routine, you and your child know that you will be reading a book together. This is a routine that you can easily do on a daily basis.

The craving: If you are establishing this routine, or re-establishing it, make sure to keep in mind that the experience needs to be enjoyable. The positive feeling you and your child get from the experience is the key to form this habit. It is therefore important that it is felt as a bonding time. Make sure you do NOT make your language compulsory. Being able to understand and read in different languages should be felt as enabling your child access to more fun and exciting stories. It should be EMPOWERING. If your story time must only be in your home language(s), the message that you are sending your child is the opposite of what you want to transmit. The language becomes restrictive.

Of course, if you feel like you need to have a rule to have a few books in your home language, feel free to establish one, but do not make it about the language. For example, you can decide with your child to take turns in choosing the book to read (and you might "happen to be" choosing books in your language, but it should be seen as you choosing that book because you want to read it, not because it is in your language).

And if you don't want to have any rule, you can of course encourage your child for example by saying: “Oh! I love this story! Should we read this one tonight?” Chances are that if they don’t have a book they really want to read, they will say “yes”.

All your child's languages are part of their identity. It is therefore important to value them all. The important point to remember here is that

your child's multiple languages enables them to access many more stories than if they only understood one.

Response to craving / Habit: Choose a book that your child enjoys (in any language as mentioned above).

Even during this activity, you can work on literacy.

  • Point at the part of the sentence you are reading so that your child can follow.

  • You can ask your child to read some words and sentences. It needs to be an activity that builds your child’s confidence, where they realise that they CAN REALLY READ! So make sure that if you are asking your child to read part of the story, it is not too much. The effort needs to be manageable (You can also read this blog post on balancing effort and reward)

  • Ask questions regarding various aspects of the story. E.g.: Do you think the boy is happy? Why? Understanding the implicit is a skill that is difficult to develop. It could therefore be a good idea to refer to what is implicitly said in the story. This is a skill that is transferable between languages, and it will help your child’s understanding of text they read in school. And vice versa, by working on the implicit message of a text in class, they will develop the skills to read between the lines in their home language(s) too.