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4 Bad-Habit Makeovers

Raising kids, I used to think, how hard could it be? Anything you can carry around in a car seat can't be all that big a deal, right?

Given this line of reasoning, I deserved every bit of grief I got when my first child, Lucy, was born. Of course, it wasn't really my fault. I never slept. I breastfed round the clock, taking breaks only for wrestling matches with my unspeakably tight prepregnancy pants. My hormones mocked me. So I did whatever it took to survive.

Rather than listen to Lucy cry, I rocked her to sleep. If she woke up in the middle of the night, I let her stay in my bed, even though it meant I'd lie awake beside her. Then, when she was a toddler, I gave up on teaching her how to pick up toys. (I could do it faster and better.) And it wasn't just toys I was picking up; it was Lucy herself, who always seemed to get a case of rubber leg anytime we had to walk more than a few blocks.

I assumed she would outgrow these habits. But she didn't. She just got heavier, something I felt acutely when I was nine months pregnant with her baby sister. This couldn't go on. But was it too late to change the bad habits -- mine, as well as hers? No! Kids are flexible, and if we go about changing their ways correctly, they learn and adjust quickly.

And mercifully, I wasn't the first parent to need a do-over. In talking with other moms who'd sorted out these problems, I learned an easy three-step strategy: First, stop and figure out why Lucy's doing what she's doing; then gradually work toward replacement behavior that works better; finally, enforce the new rules carefully (and consistently!).

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