Passing on Bad Habits to Our Children

Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Parents should remember their children are the greatest impressionists, says Matt Rawlings.

When you’ve got little ones it’s surprising how often you catch yourself doing something you shouldn’t, like biting your fingernails or slurping the milk out of your cereal bowl, and then look up to find yourself being watched – and imitated.

You’ve got to be really careful about passing on your bad habits to your kids – obviously they’re going to pick up a few along the way, but it’s possible to minimise the damage. For better or for worse, the way we behave influences our children throughout their lives, so you’ve got to be on your guard pretty much 24/7 until you pack them off to university, or they leave home. Here are some things to watch out for…


Passing on bad driving habits to your children is potentially quite dangerous. Obviously, if you have a tendency to drive without a seatbelt or go above the speed limit, then they’re likely to think that’s acceptable or even normal. Being less experienced and so more likely to crash, it puts their safety at risk. Car insurers such as Ingenie are now trying to counter these inherited bad behaviours by using black box technology to reward young people for driving safely, but good driving habits really need to start at home.

However, many parents still take their kids out for private practice outside their professional lessons and they could find themselves reinforcing those bad habits. That’s why it makes sense to brush up on your highway code and remember that if you do take your child out, you’re just there to supervise and not to teach; that’s what their driving instructor is for!


An American study revealed that parents who dieted frequently or worried about their body image were more likely to have children who did the same. While there’s nothing wrong with dieting per se, the problem is that what suits one person may not suit another, so children could be picking up dietary issues they wouldn’t otherwise have – the worst-case scenario is developing a fixation about food that can lead to serious health problems, such as bulimia or anorexia.

The study’s author also usefully suggests that parents should make as little out of diets and body image as possible to encourage healthy eating and instead try to bring in regular exercise and cut junk food from the house.


It’s easy to understand why parents don’t tend to discuss financial issues with their children if they can avoid it – they don’t want them to grow up worrying about money or generally believe they’re too young to understand – but by shielding our children we actually limit their understanding completely. Even if we have difficulty managing our finances they can learn from our mistakes when it comes to taking responsibility for themselves.

Good advice includes getting the kids involved in planning the household budget, taking responsibility yourself if money problems strike instead of blaming external factor  and trying to avoid ‘lifestyle inflation’ – otherwise known as keeping up with the Joneses. A big part of the latter is clearly distinguishing between wants and needs with your children at an early age.

My own personal policy with my kids is this: whenever I see them copying a bad habit from either myself or their mother, I don’t make a fuss. I just address it a bit later in conversation, pointing out why it’s wrong and what the consequences can be – usually this ends with us both promising to try to stop doing it.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s vital you keep communicating with your children. Let them bring up any issues or questions they have – with food, finances, or even the way you drive – and answer openly, admitting your mistakes. Then, try to lead by example!