Recently a reader asked how we carry out habit training in our home.
As it is the start of a new year, it is an ideal time to prayerfully introduce or reinforce the relevant habits for each child.
Here are my P’s in habit formation ~
Pray ~ (on your own)
- Ask the Lord to highlight the character issue that He wants to establish in each child where there is a weakness.
- God sees each of us with loving eyes and in grace and grows us to conform to Him by degrees.
- I want instant changes, but He guides us gently by revealing His character, just as a potter works with clay.
“If only every mother understood how habit, in her knowing hand, is as useful a tool as the wheel to a potter, or the knife to a carver. With this instrument–habit–she can conceive of what she wants her child to be like, and then she can help him to become that!” Volume 1, Home Education, pg 9
May I illustrate a specific example? We’ve enjoyed an extended summer break. We’ve stayed up late and all of us struggle to get up in the mornings. School is about to start and we all need to get back into a good bedtime routine so that we can all wake up fresh.
I want my children (10, 13 and 18) to go to bed at a reasonable time with a friendly goodnight greeting, brush their teeth and read quietly in their own beds.
Prescribe ~ (write in your prayer journal)
- Ask the Lord to show you a good habit to replace the bad habit. If you can describe it, you can prescribe how it should be implemented and established.
- Introduce a new routine to replace a bad one. There is something freeing to “Starting from today …” and beginning afresh.
- Express the positive instead of the negative. Don’t focus on the bad habit. Write down the new habit in tangible, do-able words.
“I saw that religious teaching gave children a motive and the ability to try their best, and it raised them up so that they chose higher priorities. Knowing Biblical laws helped keep them from doing the wrong things. Having God’s love within helped them want to do good.” Volume 1, Home Education, pg 9
I wrote in my journal,
“Starting from tonight at 8:30pm Miss.10 will say good night and brush her teeth and we will read our story together.
- A new toothbrush and reminder to sing the whole “Jesus Loves Me” song while brushing. (This is an important habit all on its own!)
- Chose a fun new story book to read together!
“Miss. 13 and 18 will also begin their bedtime routine by 9:00pm. I will come to chat to each of them and kiss them goodnight. They can read on their own.10:00pm lights out.”
- Reminder to Miss.13 about her tooth brushing – do it well!
- Re-start our personal night-time notebooks?
- Perhaps read on with “Beautiful Girlhood” with Miss.13?
- Encourage her to have her Quiet Time in evening as she battles to wake in the morning?
- Suggest a good new classic book for their own reading time?
- Sit with Miss.18 and talk about things she is facing once she graduates/ friends.
- Is there a suitable book we can read about womanhood and preparation for marriage?
- Remind then to set their own clocks for the morning.
Promote ~ (together with your child)
- Present the new good habit. Use positive words and friendly body language. Aim for your child’s heart and keep it intimate and non-threatening.
- Explain why we need this habit.
- Keep the focus positive and avoid blame, shame or guilt.
- Keep it simple. I find it is good to have a 1-word name for the habit. This prevents nagging and tedious explanations.
- Put up a chart or picture.
- Encourage your child that you will help them remember the new habit, but that you expect them to learn to follow this habit this every time on their own.
At breakfast time I will explain the new routine. I tell them their bed times and suggest the ideas above with gentle enthusiasm.
Name my 1-word prompt ~ “Bedtime” Tell them that a half-hour before “Bedtime” I will warn them. I will tell them or use the timer and when they hear the bell they must start to go to bed. (Warning is important for young children and daydreamers. They need to ease off what they are enjoying. The warning prepares them and in doing so, avoid tantrums.)
Prepare ~ (This is vital for young children/ for brand new activities/ to re-learn forgotten habits or to change the old habit. Do this some time before the habit is to be implemented)
- Prepare the child for the new habit. (It is good to do this in a time when the child doesn’t normally have to do the habit. The day before, the afternoon before the bath-time or bedtime routine,the night before the morning routine.)
- Describe it. Act it out. Make it fun. Sing a song. Whistle a tune.
- Use a timer.
- Do it together and explain step-by-step.
- Watch your child do it precisely and accurately.
- Explain that you will give a reminder and then they will do the new habit as they have just practiced it now.
Pro-active ~ (be ready and available)
- Use the 1-word and watch that it is correctly performed.
- Describe the good habit.
- Initiate the new habit with a positive and enthusiastic attitude.
- Start the habit quickly and reinforce it before the bad habit even has time to start.
- Be ready before your child even wakes up.
- Set up the necessary situation or be prepared to be present and focused.
- Prepare the child ahead of the time and give time indicator when it will start.
At 8:00pm I must stop all my activities and announce the “Bedtime” warning and at 8:30pm go cheerfully with Miss.10 to the bathroom to watch her brush her teeth and check her technique. Happily go to bed and snuggle with her and bring out our new story book. Read, chat briefly, pray together and kiss & cuddle, then say goodnight. She may read quietly for about 15 minutes, then lights out.
At 8:30pm the older two must say their good nights and prepare for bed. By 9:00pm I will start my one-on-one good-nights with the older girls.
- Be aware of the steps and difficulties and be positively present.
- Ensure that the activity is correct and done with the right attitude. Character is always reflected in the attitude. This is the hardest part. We want an attitude adjustment and not just the right action!
- Quickly nip the wrong/ bad attitude or habit in the bud.
- Be firm but gentle.
- Let your child repeat it if necessary.
My older daughters must stop their other activities well ahead of the bedtime if they still want to sit together and chat over a cup of tea.(This is a lovely habit they have developed now that Miss.13 has matured and they have such an intimate friendship.) Miss.L’s routine will be their reminder!
Quickly remind Miss.13 to respond if she dawdles or is distracted. A simple, “Bedtime” must prompt her to obedience.
Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt
- Recognize and describe the good habit.
- A delighted smile from mom is enough to boost that inner sense of “I did it well.”
- Describe the positive that you see. This not gooey, sentimental and gushy.
- No treats or rewards are necessary as this external motivation will force mom to permanently praise and reward the child.
- A child must learn to ‘feel good’ inside himself that he successfully remembered and did right and good.
- Internal motivation is the highest motivation.
My positive one-on-one time reading or chatting together is our reward. If they delay or take too long getting ready, they will lose this joyful time with me as I will merely kiss them goodnight, tell her that we will start again tomorrow, and leave the room.
- Some habits take longer to establish, but vigilance is vital.
- Watch over the child daily, wait expectantly ready to reinforce, use the 1-word reminder if needed and repeat, repeat, repeat.
- “The mother must arm herself with tact, watchfulness and persistence. With only these tools, she’ll be surprised how readily her child picks up a new habit.” Volume 1, Home Education, pg 9
- Usually within a week of daily vigilance you will be able to step back and allow the child to complete the good habit on his own.
- Ms. Mason suggests, “(The child’s) mother will have to come up with a few means of reminding him, but she will be sure of two things: that (the new habit is completed correctly), and that this matter is never a source of friction between them. Instead, she takes on the role of friendly ally, helping him to remember since his memory isn’t always reliable.” Volume 1, Home Education
- Step back in if they fail or do it with a sloppy or bad attitude.
- Stay firm.
- Continue to watch and promote until the habit is done without reminders, words or motivation. Then it is established.
- I agree with Ms. Mason,do not give relief time off the habit. Do not feel sorry for your child’s efforts. Such sympathy breaks the habit. “Acquiring a habit takes some effort, but once the habit is in place, it is rewarding because a habit is pleasant in and of itself. It’s easy to do something on auto-pilot, something that doesn’t take a lot of thought or will power.” Volume 1, Home Education, pg 9
Please … have grace with me … I am a struggling, but persevering mom. My children are not perfect and I have to work through my own weaknesses, my disappointments … and keep trying.
Some of my best efforts seem to only work with my younger children, as teenagers develop and change. I seem to find this stage the most challenging.
Sometimes I have to apologize for coming on too strong, for showing my frustrations, for lack of grace …
When I see my eldest doing what is right and good of her own accord, I know that it is well worth the effort.
It is a JOB.
Pray, Prescribe, Promote, Prepare, Pro-active, Prevent, Praise, Permanent
Good habits and character do not come by chance. I am constantly aware of the Lord working Himself in me, urging me higher and deeper.
Blessings to you as you intentionally parent your children.