“Strong as nature is, habit is not only as strong, but tenfold as strong” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 105).I notice it in a particular way every couple of years. My children, who have reached a certain level of autonomy when it comes to habits of attention, cleanliness, order, obedience, etc. suddenly begin to go wild.
Before I know it laying around is the norm and whining, drama, and exasperation has become the order of the day. Yelling becomes the normal vocal inflection and I even spot a bit of meanness entrenched in those sweet personalities.
Typically, I will puzzle over it for a few months and then begin some type of prayer crusade. In which God reveals to me that-- hello???-- the problem is me.
You see, every couple of years I find myself pregnant, and pregnancy and I don't mesh well (which is funny, considering how often I am pregnant. :D)
I think it's fair to say that I spend the nine months in relative agony and that, owing to the fact that I live a rather spartan life with a husband who also happens to work outside the home for what amounts to days and weeks. Because of these things, and a lack of discipline on my part, when I get pregnant, I turn into a rotten toddler---- I'm hungry, cranky, round, mean, don't like sharing, say no all the time, and throw fits or laugh hysterically depending on my mood.
So it should be no surprise, really, that I find myself in a face-off with kids who are ordinarily amazing, but whose personalities have suddenly become less than pleasant.
But I'm a slow learner, and this moment always catches me by surprise.
Now, excuses are like--- well, you know. And in my household, my husband is the very first to say and say often that excuses matter not one iota. We all have good reasons for why we didn't "do" whatever we were supposed to, but at the end of the day, only the strong survive. So we must persevere, regardless of how very good the reasons are to give up, if even temporarily.
Which is why Charlotte Mason is such a gem to me... because she presents a practical and simple way to address the problem--- that works!
"(...) we are limited to three educational instruments-- the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas." (Vol. 1, Preface)"I don't have control over my environment the way I would like to, and there truly is not much I can do about that. But I can, and do, present living ideas to my children, and I can, and do, present them with the intentional discipline of habit. Until I forget. :D
Charlotte was convinced that habit was inevitable-- that children developed good, or bad, habits depending on the amount of thought that went into the formation of their character and depending on their natural surroundings. Indeed, one of the first things she taught me was not to despair over a child who had developed some awful character traits, but rather to rejoice, because now that I had pinned down the problem I could simply view it as a bad habit that had been acquired and replace it with it's contrary good habit.
Charlotte taught that children can and should (her schools held the motto "I can, I am, I ought, and I will!") develop good habits in several areas: decency and propriety, moral, physical, mental, and religious habits. And she clearly developed the formation of habits for each category so as to make it really easy to build character in the children.
Of all the habits she discussed, she placed the priority of importance on three of them:
She viewed these as the foundation on which the other habits could be built, so when I go through these periods of looking at my kids and scratching my head, that is always where I start. Obedience, attention and truthfulness really do seem to be the first areas they slip and also the most important things to rectify... many of their other habits fall more naturally into place when we cover these three.
The principles of teaching and instilling good habits do not change no matter what the habit.
First, be consistent and deal with the offense right away.
Second, remember that sometimes all it takes is diverting a child's THOUGHTS (not attention) to the formation of a new habit.
Third, remember that we are training to avoid discipline later. Discipline is not the point, training is. Discipline is often punishment, whereas training eliminates the need for discipline.
Work on one habit at a time, but keep watch over the ones you've worked on.
Motivate your child with the inspiration of people who possess the habit you want to develop. (This is a particularly wonderful way to help Catholic children to imitate the virtues of the saints!)
Pay close attention so that you do not excuse your child when they develop a bad habit, not even once.
And lastly, do not NAG. Instead, simply expect obedience after one calm, quiet telling, and then reinforce with consequences when your expectation is not met. Persist with each habit for a week, a month at a time, and then move on, keeping an eye on that one like a spinning plate on the tip of one finger while you start on the next.
This is the process of habit formation, one habit at a time. And yes---there will be plenty of moments when you begin anew, looking in dismay around you at the mess of crashed and broken plates all over the ground!
I'm in one of those places right now, realizing how many habits I've let slip both in myself and in my children, for any number of "good reasons" that I can not allow to become excuses.
Laying down the Rails from Simply Charlotte Mason, which I cannot recommend enough, and begin again with Obedience, Attention, and Truthfulness, going back along the way over the many beautiful habits my children have picked up on this journey to make sure the plates are still spinning.
Only years from now will I be able to look back and breathe a sign of relief, but until then, it is once again thanks to Charlotte that I can look at a situation which at one time had the potential to make me throw up my hands and simply give up, but which instead makes me motivated and excited to train my children up in the way that they should go, so that when they are old they do not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)