3 Little Words for Habit Training: Watchfulness

Mom and Daughter

Have you ever noticed how some things jump out at you once you start thinking about them—things you didn’t notice until someone brought them to your attention? For example, portion sizes. My husband and I eat out a lot when we’re traveling around the country doing conferences, but I never really noticed how large the portion sizes are getting until I read a bit in a book about how the size of food portions has grown over the years. Now I’m watching for it, and I see it all the time!

Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing with cars or boots or bags. You finally decide to buy a new one and suddenly you start noticing how many other people have them and what kind each person has.

It’s not that the item hasn’t been there before. It was, but you didn’t notice it because it wasn’t on your mental radar. Now you’re watching for it.


That’s how it is with habits. Once you are aware of habits, you start watching for them. In fact, Charlotte Mason believed that the mother’s watchfulness was an important factor in the habit-training process.

“Tact, watchfulness, and persistence are the qualities she must cultivate in herself; and, with these, she will be astonished at the readiness with which the child picks up the new habit” (Vol. 1, p. 122).

We talked about tact last time, and it applies as we consider watchfulness too. Charlotte was not talking about a heavy-handed “Don’t forget that I’ve got my eye on you” kind of watchfulness. Rather she was encouraging mothers to grow in their awareness of what is going on around them and how those situations might relate to the habits our children are cultivating.

She wanted mothers to notice, to be watching for . . . what kinds of things? Here are a few that come to mind.

  • Watch for opportunities for the child to practice the habit you’re working on. It seems easiest to notice those glaring times when the child fails to practice the habit—when you have to correct him. But you will see better results if you take a proactive approach. Watch for situations in which you can plant a little seed of an idea; then a bit later, perhaps, casually present an opportunity to put the idea into practice without your dictating what to do. Yes, it takes more effort, but the rewards are great!

  • Watch for ideas to encourage good habits. You can motivate your child to cultivate a good habit through living examples, through consequences, and through encouraging looks and words.Be on the lookout for books that feature good examples of the habits you’re working on. Be careful to use them with tact; sometimes the less said, the better. Simply put them in the child’s mind and heart and allow good literature to do its work. So keep your radar up for any book suggestions that might help with the particular habit you’re working on or plan to work on.

    The same goes for consequences. There are so many variables involved in children’s personalities and all the aspects of a situation that there is not one-size-fits-all list of consequences that are guaranteed to work. That’s impossible. But you can be watchful for potential consequences. When mothers whom you respect talk about situations they encountered and how they handled them, you might pick up a valuable tip or idea. Watch for those.

  • Watch for indications that a child is growing in a new habit. Maybe the growth is very small, but it’s still growth! Look for it. Acknowledge it. Affirm it. Celebrate it!

  • Watch for clues about which new habits you should work on in the future. Charlotte recommended you focus on one new habit for six to eight weeks. That means you can tackle at least six new habits in a year. Keep your eyes open for areas that might benefit from a new good habit. Keep a list, if you want to, to remind yourself of what you could work on next. If you have several habits listed, look over the list and decide which should take priority for the next six to eight weeks.

    This list will help you not panic the next time you have a bad day. You know what kind of day I mean; the kind when you think, These kids are monsters! I can’t believe they did that/said that. I’m a failure as a mom! But before you go dust off your Bad Mommy trophies, sit down with your list and think through which habit or habits would have helped in that situation. Put them on the list and remind yourself that no, your kids are not perfect yet, but you have a plan to help them continue to grow and improve.

Watchfulness. It’s a gentle reminder from Charlotte to be tuned in, keeping your mental radar up, observant of what is happening around you as it relates to habit training. The more you can cultivate watchfulness in yourself, the more you “will be astonished at the readiness with which the child picks up the new habit.”