Taking Medicine

by Site Author

Like most parents of a three-year-old, my wife and I have no idea what we’re doing. We’ve read the books, but we still can’t stop the tantrums. Nothing works.

So I was surprised when, all of a sudden, my wife and I got our daughter to do something she didn’t want to do. We even, eventually, got her to like it.

It started with a bad case of strep throat. My daughter was sick, and her pediatrician prescribed antibiotics. The pediatrician prescribed a teaspoon-and-a-half of the medicine each morning and evening for ten days.

At first, my daughter steadfastly refused to take the medicine. She argued, she yelled, she clamped her mouth shut.

Too often, when faced with that kind of resistance, my wife and I would just back down. We have given up when faced with a tantrum more often than we’d like to admit.

But this time was different. We were under doctor’s orders. And so, uncharacteristically, we didn’t take no for an answer.

Those first few days, after trying every trick in the book, we had to force her to take the medicine. But by the tenth day, our daughter was reminding us to give her her meds.

All in all, we were reminded of how much parenting is about habits. You have to struggle at first, but eventually, the habit becomes automatic. Eventually, no one has to remind you to buckle your seat belt, or brush your teeth, or floss—you do it automatically.

Charles Duhigg wrote a book about habits, and argued that they are a secret to success. He quotes a major in the US Army:

“Understanding habits is the most important thing I’ve learned in the army. It’s changed everything about how I see the world. You want to fall asleep fast and wake up feeling good? Pay attention to your nighttime patterns and what you automatically do when you get up. You want to make running easy? Create triggers to make it a routine. I drill my kids on this stuff. My wife and I write out habit plans for our marriage. This is all we talk about in command meetings… Once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.”

The major told Dughigg that he had few career prospects before the army. Now he oversees 800 troops. And, as he puts it, “if a hick like me can learn this stuff, anyone can. I tell my soldiers all the time, there’s nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.”

So much of parenting is about inculcating habits. And yet there are so many habits we wish our daughter would adopt. Why can’t she just clean her room each night, automatically? Or brush her teeth? Or actually eat vegetables?

And yet, each of those habits, especially at the age of three, takes real work to acquire. We do that work each day.