Sunday, January 8, 2012

Forming Habits

With the New Year come resolutions for new habits. As parents, we not only identify areas where we can improve, but also where our children can form new habits or improve upon already existing ones, such as obeying our requests more promptly, picking up after themselves, and paying attention fully.

Although it sounds so simple, learning to pay attention is not necessarily an easy habit to acquire. Yet it is foundational to just about every other habit imaginable. Nineteenth-century educator Charlotte Mason urged parents to see to it that their children developed the habit of paying attention, for, she wrote, "no talent, no genius, is worth much without the power of attention; and this is the power which makes men or women successful in life." She recommended parents of easily distractable children help their children build the habit of attention by keeping lessons short (ten minutes or less) and interesting.

I love what author Jamie McMillen has to say about forming new habits in her book, Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers' Guide to Self-Directed Excellence:

"Creating a new habit is actually a lot of work. That's why so many people fail to do it. Like water, we all tend to follow the same easy, well-worn paths rather than exert the effort to clear a new path. But this is all the more reason to help our kids build the right papths in the first place. It takes diligence."
The diligence required to train our children to form habits that can make us so weary as moms as moms sometimes. I would love it if I could explain and demonstrate once what I expect and then have it followed exactly so ever-after. But that is not the case when it comes to training children. This calls for a loving spirit and a great deal of patience (and a new, or improved, habit of such on Mom's part!).

"We can reinforce those expectations with gentle reminders. But we will have to be consistent and follow through. It's not enough to just say, 'Please put away your paints so we can set the table,' then repeat it at regular intervals hoping that your child will comply. You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you get your child in the habit early of cleaning up her paints as soon as she is done. Do it with her every time at first. Show her how to clean the brushes and where to put her picture to dry and where to put the paint box every time. The hard part is consistency. Even if you are in the middle of preparing dinner or a phone call, you need to initiate the cleaning-up process as soon as she is done painting. Eventually your consistency will pay off and it will become a habit she can continue on her own."--Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers' Guide to Self-Directed Excellence
So when it comes to teaching our children new habits, first demonstrate in short, bite-sized chunks, what you expect. In Legendary Learning, McMillen writes about John Wooden--named "the greatest coach of all time in any sport" by ESPN. His success was credited to the fact that he ran short, intense drills followed by feedback. Explain, demonstrate, imitate, correct, repeat--that was his habit of coaching. It worked.
"Training for anything involves repition of the correct behavior. Drama, screaming, and scolding are not helpful. Consistency, modeling, and patience are the way to go. Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers' Guide to Self-Directed Excellence
I love those lines. I would add that praise is a huge motivator as well. Our children will hopefully work hard on learning and perfecting their new habits, and they will do so much better (and be so much more motivated to work harder) under our words of encouragement and praise. As I watch Michelle Duggar with her children, I never see her raise her voice or sternly correct her little ones. She is full of praise for their attempts at obedience and helpfulness. Those little nuggets motivate children in a way that criticism and harshness never will.
 (linked with the Homemaking link-up at Raising Homemakers and Works for Me Wednesday)


  1. Sounds like an awesome book that I need to read! Helping my children form positive habits is definitely an area I need to work on.

  2. Not related but came across this website and thought you might want to have a look. Seems like it might be a helpful, doable aid for you ;)

  3. Hi Stephenie, yes, it's a helpful book! The author studied the lives of famous homeschoolers (those largely responsible for their own education at home), such as Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, and more. She is an advocate of the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling and unschooling to some degree, as a heads up. I really liked the habit chapter. I found it really helpful. Not a Christian author, I don't think, so there are a few things to be discerning of, but overall, a good read.

    Thanks Shannon, for the link! I will check that out :)