Habit loops: Creating Positive Patterns

Tasks we complete on the regular are hardwired into our brains, meaning we can perform them automatically without much thought. These "automatic" habits can be learned and then applied to encourage and maintain positive behavior, especially in children. To help you strengthen these behaviors, we came up with our blog on how to create positive habits for your children.

We’ve all experienced the surreal feeling of driving to work on autopilot and not remembering how we got there. Tasks we complete on the regular are hardwired into our brains meaning we can perform them without much thought, creating habit loops.

How many of us reach for our phones when we need a distraction? When was the last time you sat in a waiting room without scrolling Instagram or stalking holiday snaps posted by a school friend you haven’t seen in 20 years?

These behaviors are triggered by certain cues or cravings such as boredom or procrastination, but the concept can also be applied to encourage and maintain good behavior, especially in children.

With the Thumsters app to back you up, you can use the science of habit loops to help your child learn and retain positive behavior patterns using tangible rewards.

Circle of habit loops

Start with a cue

Whether the cue is asking your child to tidy their room, get started on their homework or brush their teeth before bedtime, the Thumsters app provides you with a tool to reward them when they carry out the task as you’ve asked.

Rewarding their actions with a thumbs up could be dependent on whether they carried out the task the first time you asked, whether they completed it fully, or whether they did it without complaining - imagine that!

At this stage it’s helpful to observe your child’s reaction to your cues and whether they react differently to different tasks. Perhaps there’s a particular household chore that your child genuinely doesn’t enjoy or isn’t sure how to carry out correctly, in which case the problem might be that they just need a little help or some hands on help to get started.

Experiment with goals and rewards

Let’s say you’ve asked your child to tidy away the toys that have exploded all over their bedroom floor. Your request for them to clean up the mess is the cue, them taking action by beginning the task is the behavior, and a Thumsters thumbs up is the reward.

With time-consuming tasks like a full bedroom tidy, it may be beneficial to break it down into smaller goals/rewards, such as giving one thumbs up for clearing the floor, another for putting things away in the right place, and another for making their bed.

Breaking the task up this way into manageable, bite-sized pieces will encourage your child to stay focused on the task at hand, and stop them getting bored and distracted halfway through. The last thing you want is for them to start playing with whatever it is they were supposed to be putting away - ooh, shiny!

If your child knows a full bedroom tidy will earn them three Thumsters thumbs ups, they are likely to react positively to your cue each time you ask it, and stick to the task until their bedroom is spick and span, especially if they’re working towards a big goal in the Thumsters app.  Eventually, what begins as extrinsic motivation (doing something because you are GETTING something in return), becomes intrinsic behavior/great habits.


Creating positive habit loops is no mean feat, so be sure to let your child know when they’re doing a good job. By explaining why tasks need to be completed, and including your child in the process of changing their behavior from a negative response to a positive one, not only will they feel like you’re working on it together, they’ll also be more driven to succeed and work towards the goals you’ve set together. These goals may include not ignoring requests, working as a family team to keep your home tidy, being kind to their siblings or not talking back in a negative manner.

This is where the habit of doing as you ask really starts to cement itself in their brain because they know they’ll be rewarded for doing so, no matter the task. In time, your child won’t even hesitate when you ask them to do something because their autopilot function (habit loop) will kick in and all they’ll be thinking about is that thumbs up, ‘well done!’ from Mum and eventually the confidence they feel from completing a task or getting along with their big brother! 

The praise part is particularly important when you’re addressing the habit loops involved in toilet training. Here, the cue is your child feeling the need to visit the bathroom, and the habit you want to help them develop is to go straight to the bathroom before they get distracted and leave it too late.

During the chaos and mess of toilet training, when you see your child going to the bathroom of their own accord before they get to the crossed legs stage, it is essential that you make a big fuss, award a thumbs up, and give them heaps of praise and encouragement.

Although this may lead to some fake bathroom visits, it’s so worth the few extra thumbs ups and rewards they might manage to trick you into giving up.

Keep it up

Now that you’ve begun to create and maintain positive behavior loops, it’s important to maintain them. Repetition of these new behavior patterns is the key to implementing habit loops that stand the test of time and build healthy boundaries and relationships in the home.

Once your child is at a stage where they rarely object to your requests to get chores done or getting along with their siblings or getting ready for school like a champ, reflect together on how far they’ve come and the benefits the whole family gains from positive behavior, tidy bedrooms, and stress-free morning routines.

Creating habit loops during daily tasks

It’s also crucial that you stick to your guns and make sure your child knows the boundaries when it comes to completing a particular task, chore or family routine. For example, if the task is to get ready for bed, make it clear that no other activities can take place outside of that task, and if they get it done fast, there might be a spare 10 minutes for playtime or an extra story with Dad before lights out.

You can also try making the task fun as well as rewarding. How fast can they pick up all their toys and put them away? How many socks can they count on the floor? How fast can they get into their pyjamas with their eyes closed?

It takes patience

Habit loops take patience

Rewiring the brain doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient and kind in the process and consider how hard it would be for you to break some of your own habit loops. 

We all know there are huge benefits to journaling, yoga, exercise and spending less time scrolling social media, but putting those behaviors into action and maintaining them is easier said than done.

So, what are some habit loops you’d like to create in your family and how will you make them last? You might even create a new positive habit of your own in the process.