My heart has been overflowing with thoughts in the direction of forming good habits in our children – painful thoughts since so many families seem on the brink of despair. But there is a solution!
“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.” ~ Charlotte Mason, Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook
An Analogy to Help Us Better Understand How Habits Are Formed
This is the home of my father’s childhood. He helped his Opa (grandfather) train the pears, and later, often related this simple principle of training children while young.
Later, when visiting my father’s early home, we saw loaded pear trees that had been purposely pruned (espaliered) to take on a certain shape.
Someone had trained those trees to grow in that direction when they were saplings.
Sure, fully-grown trees might be trained to some degree to grow in a certain way, but it is so much easier to truly shape a tree when it is just a pliable little sprout.
Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived in the late 1800s, stated this principle for parents:
“What you would have the man become, that, you must train the child to be”.
The ‘Early Years’ are the perfect time to concentrate on forming good habits in our children. It is never too late to instill a good habit, but so much easier if we instill good habits right from the beginning!
The Bible gives us the same principle (though not an absolute guarantee): “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” ~Proverbs 22: 6
4 ‘Musts’ To Achieving Good Habits
1.) The value of keeping your children with you in the home environment (even though very imperfect) instead of sending them off to sit under the guidance of someone you DO NOT KNOW cannot be underestimated.
We cannot teach good habits if we are not there to gently form that young sapling, or our work will be undone!
2.) Understand that your child will not just simply grow out of his faults.
Let’s face it, our little own ones are often cute when they do wrong. But parents cannot afford to laugh at stubbornness, tantrums, or disobedience or it will lead to sure trouble. We are witnessing this in our culture to a greater degree than ever before.
“They say, ‘The child is so young; he does not know any better; but all that will come right as he grows up.’ Now, a fault of character left to itself can do no other than strengthen.” ~Charlotte Mason
Scripture tells us, “… a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” ~Proverbs 29: 15
3.) Be Consistent. I can’t overstate how important this is!
It will probably be the most difficult thing of all, but in the end bring huge rewards for your children and YOU.
The key to progress in any habit is repetition.
- Teach the habit by example as you allow your child to work along side you. Explain, but no nagging. If necessary show a picture…it is worth a thousand words!
- Do not consider it an interruption of your time. “Pay now or pay later”!
- Look for success. Praise goes a long way to reinforce right actions.
The more times our children do the right thing, the easier it will become. Soon they will be able to do the right thing without stopping to think about it. But if they do the right thing once or twice, then are allowed to do the wrong thing the third time, we have wiped out any progress in that new habit and have to start all over again.
“I can tell you that a parent’s imperfect efforts to home educate will bear more fruit than an environment that puts a strain on the parent-child relationship and obscures the Savior. The righteousness you long for, in your precious family, by God’s generous grace can be yours.” ~Karen Andreola
Mothers, we are less likely to grow weary in well-doing if we are consistent. Formation is easier than reformation. Please dear reader, pray earnestly for Wisdom to the heavenly Father Who hears us and don’t give up!
4.) Be Vigilant.
~Know your child’s heart by spending time with him or her. Allow them to open their little hearts to you and LISTEN with attention and eye contact. You will learn so much.
~As you interact day by day, winsomely encourage with applicable Scripture. It will take root in their heart. I encourage you to be in the Word of God yourself, develop a sweet attitude yourself, and it will overflow to your children. Though cliché, the statement, “More is caught, than taught” is true!
Don’t let Satan discourage you when you see bad habits all around you! Remember the verse, “…being confident of this, that He [God] who began a good work in you will be faithful to carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1: 6
Resources to Help ‘lay down the rails’ as Good Habits:
“As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55: 10-11
I will never tell you that changing bad habits will be easy or come overnight because you love your children. I will say it will be a hard-fought daily battle, but with the Lord, we can do anything! It has grown me and stretched me so, but in it there is great JOY. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” ~3 John 1: 4
Once our children have come to see their sin and repent, accepting Jesus as their Savior, the Holy Spirit will speak to them of their sin and work in their hearts (John 16: 13-14).
You will not be alone in their training. What a relief to know God through His Holy Spirit is at work to form good habits in them then! Give them the weapon of the Word (the Sword of the Spirit) with which to fight and be victorious (Ephesians 6: 1 and 17) and start when they are just tender sprouts!
In His book, When I Don’t Desire God, John Piper writes:
“If you would have power over the devil, and if you would escape the snare of his deceit and the destruction of your faith, then do what Jesus did and what all the triumphant saints have done: Treasure up the Word of God, and wield it like a sword against your foe.”
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For Lo! his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.
~Martin Luther: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”