Habit training: how to do it with your kids
Jessica Welsh walks us through the concept of habit training, why it's valuable and how to try it with your kids.
By Jessica Welsh | themakingofdays.blogspot.my
Charlotte Mason was a British educator whose philosophy regarding children and education was revolutionary for its time in the late 1800’s. She had a firm belief that children are born persons and that therefore we are to teach the whole child, understanding that “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”
Habit training is part of that discipline. Charlotte Mason's writings are full of practical insights into the challenging task of cultivating good habits in your children, or 'habit training.'
“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.”
Volume 1, page 118.
If you’d like to start habit training with your children, here are a few tips that might help you get started.
Choose a habit
Choose one habit you want to work on with your child at a time. This doesn’t mean everything else falls by the wayside, but you are setting aside a time where the primary focus is on a single habit you wish to begin or strengthen. Perhaps you’ve noticed your child isn’t using their manners, or they struggle to pack away their toys after playing with them. You may already have a habit in mind to work on with your child. If not, this list might give you some ideas.
When we started habit training with our son, Leo, we started small. Something we thought he could do at age 2 ½ was to take his plate to the bench after mealtimes. A small habit, yes, but, from little things…
Take some time to think about how you are going to introduce, practice and enforce your chosen habit.
Our initial attempts at habit training with Leo were poor, to say the least. One day I decided that he should start saying Please and Thank You. I then found myself in a standoff with him as he wanted to go outside but I wanted him to say please first. My expectation came without warning and Leo was confused and frustrated. I realised that I should have introduced the habit first, explaining what we are doing and why it is important.
“’Sow a habit, reap a character.’ But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion which makes the act worthwhile.”
Volume 6, p. 102.
Don’t be afraid to tell people what habit you are working on with your child and how they can help too. I’d also suggest having some redirecting ideas up your sleeve for those times when your child will simply refuse. And trust me, they will.
Start with patience
Choose a day and start. A habit cannot become so without repetition so be sure to allow for plenty of opportunities for your child to practise. And of course, praise your child for their efforts. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
It will take time for your child to establish a new habit, think six-eight weeks at best. It felt like it took forever to teach Leo to say please and thank you but now it’s second nature to him. Of course there are still times when he needs reminding (he’s three after all), but for the most part, he’s got it.
It will happen that your child will refuse or shirk the habit you are working on with them. Deciding how you will handle that before it happens will ensure you are still moving forward and you won’t be left feeling like a failure.
Initially, Leo wasn’t at all interested in taking his plate to the bench after mealtime, so we did it alongside him. At first, he grudgingly took his plate to the bench; a few times he yelled his refusal and then promptly ran from the table.
Because we had anticipated reluctance, we were able to remain calm on (almost) all of these occasions. In recent weeks we’ve seen just how established this habit has become as Leo has needed less prompting and even surprised us by asking if he can take our plates at the end of a meal.
It will change you
My husband and I have seen our habits with fresh eyes and where we both need to retrain ourselves. Getting outside has been a big one for us. We are homebodies by nature. We love finding a cosy spot in which to relax with a good book. Add some cloudy weather, a cup of tea and some banana bread, and you’re describing our perfect Saturday.
Habit training has pushed us outside and early morning runs, bush walks, gardening and time spent outdoors together as a family have found a way into our daily rhythm. We certainly feel the better for it.
Habit training is worth every effort. Whether you’re just starting out or have already begun the journey with your children, I’d love to hear your experiences and insight.
Have you tried habit training with your children? How did it go? Share in the comments below.
Jess lives with her husband, Joel, and children, Leo and Phoebe in Gympie, Queensland. She spends her days doing her best to soak up these early years at home with her little ones but can sometimes be found enjoying a moment's quiet with a cup of tea she prefers not to share. She's on Instagram @themakingofdays