Creating Habits for Smoother Days
The point of training children to have good habits is so that they’ll do things without being nagged, or scolded. Then the mother isn’t constantly chasing them down with a barrage of commands and reminders. She can leave them alone to thrive in their own way, once a habit has secured a boundary for them to grow in.
What I Wrote On Habits in 2006
I’ve been fascinated with Charlotte Mason’s writings on Habits. I’m reading through her book series with an online group, and we need to move onto the next section, but all I want to do is keep studying Ms. Mason’s section on habits until I have it memorized! It all makes such sense to me that if I train myself and my children in good habits, so many things will come easily to us! For example, if we train ourselves to go to bed in a timely manner, to shut the door after us as we go out, to wipe the sink when we’ve used it, all of these little things will just come naturally to us and we won’t have to think of doing them as “chores.” I guess I was already practicing this in housekeeping, but I called my housekeeping habits “routines.”
Habits can help us in bigger ways. The Habit of Attention will help our children (and us, if we also gain it!) to focus on a task until its completion. Charlotte Mason suggests that a child’s task be broken up into smaller parts, perhaps into 10 minute chunks of time. For those 10 minutes, the child is expected to give the task his full attention, thus forming the habit of attention.
Lori Seaborg, 2006
“Lose this day loitering, and ’twill be the same story
To-morrow; and the next, more dilatory:
The indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost, lamenting o’er lost days,”
An Example of How a Habit Made Our Lives Easier
Let’s take laundry, for example. Though not an “academic subject,” laundry duties are nevertheless a requirement of life, and should be taught to children so their adult lives flow more smoothly. We established a Habit of Laundry early on in their lives, as children are interested in machines and how they work, so I allowed them to help me with the chore. We purchased one hamper per child. And that began our Habit of Laundry.
Nobody dreads a ‘Laundry Day’ – there is no such thing on the calendar. It’s much more simple than that: if the hamper is full or almost full, do your laundry. There’s no emotion here; there’s no stress here; peek in the laundry room to see if the machines area available, then do the laundry because the hamper is full. And do it to completion! That was also a habit created. Wash, dry, fold, put away – or, if you know you can’t complete it, ask someone to finish it for you.
The Result of a Childhood of Habits in 2018
Our crew is now 23, 21, 18 and 15, so I think we’ve finally reached the point of being able to show results of our hard homeschooling work. In the areas where we created habits, the kids tackle tasks easily. In the areas where we did not create habits, they struggle, just as I do in areas where I’m undisciplined.
The well-brought up child has always been a child carefully trained in good habits.”Charlotte Mason
So now that our kids are teens to young adults, we’re seeing how the groundwork of habit-forming played out. Where they were encouraged to create habits (laundry duties, helping around the house, closing doors, resting enough, prioritizing schoolwork, always learning), they almost subconsciously do their duties.
There is no argument; there is no need for strict self-discipline. There is simply a habit.
Where we slipped up and did not create habits (staying on games too long is the biggest one I can think of), they slip up and have to exercise self-control. It’s more stressful; a problem to work on. I’m currently working on our 15-year-old to wake up earlier (than noon!), not because there is “somewhere to be” but because it’s a good habit to not waste a morning.
Tips on Developing Habits
Habits will be formed, whether or not we create them. But the habits formed won’t necessarily be the habits we wish our children (or ourselves) to have.
Whether habits are planned and created conscientiously, or allowed to be haphazardly filled in by chance, they are habits all the same. Habit rules ninety-nine percent of everything we do
I think it’s easiest to work on no more than a few habits at a time. I’ll give the example of myself, as I think the best way to teach is through actions – if you create habits for yourself, your child will pick them up more easily. When I was a newlywed, I had to work on the habits of housework. These days, it’s just automatic to start the laundry, unload and load the dishwasher, and wipe down the counters. I don’t need a blue ribbon for doing this; it’s just a habit.
Currently, I’m working on three new habits: writing every day, sitting down to study with our high schooler every day (it’s so easy to just let her learn alone!), and going to my bedroom by 10pm. Once I’ve nailed down one of those habits, the action will become natural and I’ll simply do it, without really thinking about it. I’m almost there on the 10pm bedtime. Soon, I’ll add a new habit to work on. I think it might be eating every few hours.
Habits are not permanent. They do have to be “guarded,” as Ms. Mason says, while they are still new. But once they’re well-established, they won’t require much thought.
It takes a few weeks of work to build a new habit. Once the habit is in place, it must be guarded diligently to prevent a reversion to the old ways, but keeping watch is not stressful or difficult once the new habit is secure.
Learning More on Habits
Creating and working with habits must be a lifelong pursuit, as I’m never fully on top of things. So I still find Charlotte Mason’s writings on Habits fascinating. In fact, it’s my favorite section in her books.
If you have any tips for us on habits, please share in the comments!