Watch Habit Formation In Your Children
“Sow an act…reap a habit;
Sow a habit…reap a character;
Sow a character…reap a destiny.”
– George Dana Boardman
I don’t know who this guy is, but this is good stuff. I would only add the influence of a determining will can change a destiny but that is another subject or post, and it really is easier to watch over the formation of habits in the first place.
So much of our life is habit. We do many things throughout the day that don’t take any thought at all, we can be thinking of something else entirely while we accomplish these tasks. Something we can do to set our children up for success is to watch carefully that the habits they form are beneficial and not a hindrance.
There are lots of things that fall into the habit category. Habits of speech, for example. If we want our children to speak kindly, we need to model it and stop actions of speaking to siblings poorly before they become habits. There are also relational habits, habits of caring for self and property (rather than tearing up books), etc.
Here is something that Charlotte Mason says on the subject of forming habits,
In the first place, whether you choose or no to take any trouble about the formation of his habits, it is habit, all the same, which will govern ninety-nine one-hundredths of the child’s life: he is the mere automaton you describe. As for the child’s becoming the creature of habit, that is not left with the parent to determine. We are all mere creatures of habit. We think our accustomed thoughts, make our usual small talk, go through the trivial round, the common task, without any self-determining effort of will at all. If it were not so––if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath or the table––life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out. But, let us be thankful, life is not thus laborious.
(Vol 1, page 110)
What is more tricky is changing a habit once it is formed and we realize its not doing us (or our child) any good. We do this by replacing the old habit with a new habit. Here is an example of something insignificant, wishing your child to shut the door behind them, I was going to paraphrase this at first since it is so long, but its so well spoken I am going to leave it alone:
Stages in the Formation of a Habit.––’Johnny,’ she says, in a bright, friendly voice, ‘I want you to remember something with all your might: never go into or out of a room in which anybody is sitting without shutting the door.’
‘But if I forget, mother?’
‘I will try to remind you.’
‘But perhaps I shall be in a great hurry.’
‘You must always make time to do that.’
‘But why, mother?’
‘Because it is not polite to the people in the room to make them uncomfortable.’
‘But if I am going out again that very minute?’
‘Still, shut the door, when you come in; you can open it again to go out. Do you think you can remember?’
‘I’ll try, mother.’
‘Very well; I shall watch to see how few “forgets” you make.’
For two or three times Johnny remembers; and then, he is off like a shot and half-way downstairs before his mother has time to call him back. She does not cry out, ‘Johnny, come back and shut the door!’ because she knows that a summons of that kind is exasperating to big or little. She goes to the door, and calls pleasantly, ‘Johnny!’ Johnny has forgotten all about the door; he wonders what his mother wants, and, stirred by curiosity, comes back, to find her seated and employed as before. She looks up, glances at the door, and says, ‘I said I should try to remind you.’ ‘Oh, I forgot,’ says Johnny, put upon his honour; and he shuts the door that time, and the next, and the next.
But the little fellow has really not much power to recollect, and the mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of his. By and by, after, say, twenty shuttings of the door with never an omission, the habit begins to be formed; Johnny shuts the door as a matter of course, and his mother watches him with delight come into a room, shut the door, take something off the table, and go out, again shutting the door.
The Dangerous Stage.––Now that Johnny always shuts the door, his mother’s joy and triumph begin to be mixed with unreasonable pity. ‘Poor child,’ she says to herself, ‘it is very good of him to take so
much pains about a little thing, just because he is bid!’ She thinks that, all the time, the child is making an effort for her sake; losing sight of the fact that the habit has become easy and natural, that, in fact, Johnny shuts the door without knowing that he does so. Now comes the critical moment. Some day Johnny is so taken up with a new delight that the habit, not yet fully formed, loses its hold, and he is half-way downstairs before he thinks of the door. Then he does think of it, with a little prick of conscience, strong enough, not to send him back, but to make him pause a moment to see if his mother will call him back. She has noticed the omission, and is saying to herself, ‘Poor little fellow, he has been very good about it this long time; I’ll let him off this once.’ He, outside, fails to hear his mother’s call, says, to himself––fatal sentence!––’Oh, it doesn’t matter,’ and trots off.
Next time he leaves the door open, but it is not a ‘forget.’ His mother calls him back in a rather feeble way. His quick ear catches the weakness of her tone, and, without coming back, he cries, ‘Oh, mother, I’m in such a hurry,’ and she says no more, but lets him off. Again he rushes in, leaving the door wide open. ‘Johnny!’––in a warning voice. ‘I’m going out again just in a minute, mother,’ and after ten minutes’ rummaging he does go out, and forgets to shut the door. The mother’s mis-timed easiness has lost for her every foot of the ground she had gained.
(Volume 1, 122-124)
This works, I’ve done it with my own children. And I’ve let many things go back to the original habit during the dangerous stage too, so I know how right she is!
I really do start feeling sorry for them and let things go which means the habit doesn’t get fully formed. If the habit were fully formed it would be easy for both the kids and myself. So here I am reminding myself, and sharing this information with anyone else who finds it useful.