Stephen Covey says his 7 Habits are “natural laws in the human dimension that are just as real, just as unchanging and unarguably ‘there’ as laws such as gravity are in the physical dimension.” (7 Habits, p. 32). The kid version of the 7 habits (described here) are full of words like “right”, “wrong”, “should” and “should not”. Everything about the 7 Habits is very prescriptive.
I assert that living a life in opposition to the 7 Habits is just as “true” a way to live. The 7 Habits may be right for some. But what about teaching our children how to figure out right and wrong themselves, rather than tell them there is only one “right” way? At a minimum, let’s wait until they are adults before teaching them what a business self-help guru’s opinions are about how to live a “true” life, so that our kids have enough experience to make their own evaluation.
Here are each of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for kids, followed by my Counter which shows what the Counter Habit would look like.
1. Covey’s Habit 1 is Be Proactive. This habit is about doing “the right thing” and “not blaming others for my wrong actions”.
Counter #1: Be Flexible
I am flexible and adaptive. I am able to cope well with and support change initiated by others. I understand that we live in a diverse world and that in every situation there are many valid responses. I am open-minded and do not negatively judge someone whose opinions are different from mine.
What’s important is to help our kids learn how to find their own moral compass in order to distinguish right from wrong, and learn the nuances of how this can be different for everyone. Giving kids a habit that implies there is one right way to do things represents a simplistic world that none of us live in.
2. Covey’s Habit 2 is Begin with the End in Mind. The adult version is of this habit is about figuring out what you want out of life, and making sure that the things you’re doing are really moving you closer to that goal. The kid version is sort of about planning ahead. It’s also about “the end”, which, based on the wording of this habit, is focusing on the greater good – how an individual student can contribute to their classroom, their school, and their community by being a “good” citizen. I’m not sure why the kid version is muddled. Maybe The Covey Institute was smart enough to realize that no elementary school child is ready to truly understand what their end goal is, and instead they suggested we teach children about working towards “the greater good” until they figure out what they want out of life.
As further information about this habit, the story from “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” that illustrates the habit is about two characters who earn some money. The first knows ahead of time that he wants to go see a movie. He carefully saves his money, and makes a “good” purchase of a movie ticket and snacks at the movie.
The second character doesn’t have a plan. He immediately spends every penny he earns on “junk” – silly toys and candy – and he doesn’t have enough money left to see the movie.
My child is the second character. He needs to make the mistake himself in order to learn the lesson. And I’d argue that the first character could benefit from making a mistake or two of his own. Being “perfect” according to someone else’s idea of perfect might sound good on paper, but thinking for yourself is a much more important skill. Kids need to learn how to make their own good choices rather than blindly doing what someone else thinks is right. And one of the best ways for them to think for themselves is to let the make their own decisions, and their own mistakes.
Counter #2: Learn From Your Mistakes
I always try do my best. I don’t shy away from trying things for fear I will do them wrong. When I make mistakes, I think about what went wrong, and what I will do differently so that I won’t make that same mistake again.
3. Covey’s Habit 3 is Put First Things First. This habit is about setting priorities, making a schedule, doing what you’re supposed to be doing, even if you don’t want to, and being disciplined and organized.
Counter #3: Live Each Day to the Fullest
I am excited every day when I wake up to find out what the day will hold. I look forward to what I will learn at school, and to discover what opportunities will open up to me today. I take chances because they help me learn and grow.
In support of this approach, here are the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying as recorded by palliative nurse Bonnie Ware.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Of course it’s important to plan, and to do meaningful things. But as with everything, there is no black and white, right and wrong. I don’t want to live the life Stephen Covey expects of me, nor do I want my kids to live the life that Stephen Covey imagines for them. I want them to live the life they imagine.
4. Covey’s Habit 4 is Think Win-Win.
Counter #4: Think Win-Win
This one I will concede to Covey. I think that helping kids think outside the box and work towards mutually beneficial solutions is a great conflict resolution strategy. For kids. Interestingly, even Covey recognizes that this is not a skill that kids will be able to carry successfully into the business world, because it only works if all parties are participating equally. Otherwise the win-win person will concede too much to the side that is just looking out for themselves. Covey imagines a perfect world where everyone thinks the same way. I don’t share his vision.
5. Covey’s Habit 5 is Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood.
I don’t have a Counter to this one. I just picture Covey’s perfect world again where everyone thinks the same way and behaves exactly as Covey wants them to::
Imagine two kids on the playground who have had an altercation and are trying to work it out, following Covey’s Habits:
Kid 1: I want to understand your point of view, tell me how you’re feeling.
Kid 2: I want to understand your point of view, first you tell me how you’re feeling.
Kid 1: You first.
Kid 2: No, you first.
My answer is clearly facetious, though like win-win, it points to what I consider Covey’s overly simplistic and black and white view of the world and the people in it.
6. Covey’s Habit 6 is Synergize. This habit is about working well with others, seeking out other people’s ideas because better solutions come from working together, and being humble.
Counter # 6: Trust Your Instincts
My ideas are valid and good. It’s ok to be different, and to follow my own path. I stand up for what I believe is right, even if I have to do it alone.
Sure, it can be important to be a good team player. But not everyone is a team player, at least not all the time. What about people who prefer to be alone, and to work alone? Are they wrong? Artists, writers, sculptors, engineers, composers, and inventors, to name a few, often do much of their work alone. It takes all types of people to make a good society, and there’s no reason for us to teach children that kids who prefer to do some things alone are doing it wrong.
7. Covey’s Habit 7 is Sharpen the Saw. This habit is about finding balance.
Counter #7: Find Your Passion
When I find something I truly love, I pursue it.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he asserts that anyone who is going to become truly great at something must spend 10,000 hours doing it. He holds up Bill Gates as an example. By the time Bill was in his 20s, he had spent 10,000 hours learning to program computers, and much of that was done in the middle of the night when he was able to get access to the mainframe computers. He certainly wasn’t focusing on balance and getting a good night’s sleep during that time.
I’m not saying that Bill Gates’s way of doing it was the right way. I’m simply saying that Stephen Covey’s way is not the only way. And I really wish he wouldn’t try to tell our kids that it is.