When my son began to babble he, like most kids, had an easier time repeating words and phrases that my husband and I said than coming up with novel thoughts on his own.

Around this time he also started experimenting with typical but not-so-fun toddler behavior, like hitting, snatching toys from other kids, and pushing past kids in line for the slide. While positive discipline worked well for us – helping my son learn what he should be doing instead of what he shouldn’t – we quickly realized we needed to have a few key phrases that we could say throughout the day to help him stay grounded in what he should be doing. And so, our morning mantra was born. Every day as my son eats breakfast, we say, and he repeats with great gusto, the following:

Today, I will be kind.

Today, I will be gentle.

Today, I will learn something new.

Today, I will help a friend.

Repeating this mantra as a family each morning starts the day on a positive note and makes it easy to correct behavior on the go. When he pushes past another child we simply ask, “How can you be gentler?” and he pauses, thinks, and steps to the back of the line.

When he swipes a friend’s toy or books, we ask, “How can you be kind?” and returns the stolen toys, usually with a pat on the shoulder and an apology. If he struggles to sit through storytime or a discussion with us, if he has the opportunity to share with another child, we ask, “How can you learn something new?” or “How can you help a friend?”

Having these keywords makes it easy for my son to apply the broad rules of humanity, the things we all want our kids to posses: kindness, generosity, the ability to stop and think, and to thoughtfully consider any situation he encounters. It doesn’t stop us from having to correct his behavior, or work hard to help him figure out how each part of his mantra applies in his life, but it sure does make it easier.

An important part of making the morning mantra work is being sure that we follow up each evening. As we tuck him in, we walk through each aspect of his day and, again, use his mantra to help him feel grounded. We highlight times that he was kind or gentle and, before he sleeps, we ask him if he was kind, if he was gentle, if he learned something new, and if he helped a friend. 

When we first started he simply said yes to each. Now that we’ve been talking through his mantra for over a year, and his language and capacity of independent thought have continued to develop, he’s begun to expand on his answers, to proudly share his “yes” moments and to openly say he’s “still learning” when he thinks of times he didn’t live up to his best. 

A morning mantra can help your toddler grow and develop into the little person you want them to be. Use the tips below to create a ritual that will propel them towards the positive.

Keep it simple.

As you think about creating a mantra with your little one, it’s important to consider your child’s age and developmental stage.

Use words that your child understands, and keep the phrases short and general so that they apply across a broad range of situations. If your child is older than 3 or 4, include them in developing the mantra.  

Make it personal.

Your child’s mantra should be personal to your family.

Think about what your family values most, and what sort of adult you want your kid to grow into. Is perseverance something you want to highlight? Kindness? Hard work? 

Be consistent.

If you want your child’s mantra to be truly meaningful, then making it an integral part of your family’s routine is vital. Pick a time early in the day, and make sure you talk through their mantra each day around the same time.

Live by it.

Your child’s mantra should also be yours. Hold yourself accountable to what you want your little one to do, and be open with them about your own successes and struggles.

Giving examples from your own life can help your child connect the words they say with real actions, and help them understand that these are the values your family strives to live by. 

Follow up.

Saying their mantra at the beginning of the day is a great start but without follow-up, both throughout the day and in the evening, important opportunities for learning can be lost.

Make sure to routinely reference your family’s mantra as you help your child navigate their day. Just as you pick a consistent time in the morning to connect, pick a consistent time in the evening to debrief.