Last time, I shared how I was encouraged that Charlotte Mason’s ideas about habit training were more realistic than I previously thought. I was also challenged in a few areas by some of the ideas that came up in our reading and discussion, areas that I need to change in our home to make habit and character formation more effective:
Habit Training Begins with Me
Just as atmosphere begins with me, habit training also begins with me. I am not going to be effective in helping my children develop good habits if I am not modeling good habits myself. They need to see me choosing to do right. They need to see me seeking to replace my poor habits with better ones so they get the idea that ‘we are all in this together’. It was also pointed out that children are very imitative creatures and the strongest habits are the ones that are formed unconsciously from what they see in my own life. Do I want them to imitate me? Convicting thought indeed.
Remain Patient and Sympathetic
As we are working with our children to help them form good habits and good character, we need to remain patient and sympathetic with them. Habit training is a lifetime process. There will be times when we take one step forward and two steps back. We need to avoid becoming irritated or harsh, even when we grow frustrated. Above all our children need to be aware that we love them and have their best interests in mind. I need to paste this quote from the article “Nursery Discipline” up on my fridge or somewhere:
“…love has to be accompanied by patience. It often seems as if we make no progress – as though we gain to-day, we lose tomorrow. One day we are rejoicing in the sweetness of the child’s character, the next, every fault that we thought we conquered has reasserted itself, and we are apt to despair. But we must remember that it is the last blow that smashes a stone, and that all the efforts of all the days will in the end succeed, and not one of them is wasted, but has helped toward the final triumph.”
See the Good
Related to the above, we need to look for the good habits and good qualities that our children have already formed, and make a point to encourage our children with these things. The small victories all add up as significant efforts towards winning the war. Another quote from “Nursery Discipline” that I need to post somewhere as a reminder:
“What is often needed is a little discreet blindness. If a child is very troublesome, you must let some of his minor faults go for a time unnoticed until he has learnt to obey the weightier matters of the law. Don’t ever dishearten a child by making him feel that nothing he does is right, and if you find yourself tending in that direction, be specially on the lookout for a child’s good points, and you are to find some, and a little praise for these will help him conquer in other directions.”
Habit Training takes Time
In her article on habit training, Elizabeth Foss points out that if we are going to be successful in training our children in good habits, we need to be available and actively engaged with them. We need to be aware of what they need and what is going on in their hearts. This means self-denial, giving up other things that I may want to do. In our fast-paced culture, this can be hard to do. But our children’s hearts depend on it.
Look at the Big Picture
When choosing habits to focus on, don’t lose sight of the big picture. Habit training doesn’t exist just to make our lives more convenient in the short term. In her book Loving the Little Years, Rachel Jankovich reminds us that our children are people and not an organizational project! Likewise, awhile back on the AO Forum we had a discussion about the limitations of habits: habit training is good, but never ever at the expense of our children’s hearts. We need to think carefully about what habits will set them on the path to life and focus our energy on those, rather than making mountains out of molehills. Elizabeth Foss reminds us of the big picture:
“Ultimately, we don’t want self-controlled children. We want children who hear and answer the Lord. We need to give children choices within limits, but we need to teach them how and why to choose right. We need to train their hearts and educate their minds. When they are fully informed of the consequences of their actions, we need to allow free will, just as our heavenly Father does…Children who are trained in such a way do not have their will subdued; instead they have it inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
Now to ponder how to put all of these ideas into action…