To most of us, the idea of self-discipline comes with a mental picture of a ball and chain. We think of discipline as a taskmaster, forcing us to do what we don’t really want to do. Today let’s change that mental image. Today let’s consider how discipline brings freedom!

Charlotte Mason’s three-pronged approach to education includes discipline: Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life. You see, Charlotte understood the freedom that comes from applying discipline in order to form good habits. For example, think about the freedom that would come if your child developed the habit of obeying the first time you told him to do something. And don’t just think about the freedom it would bring to you; consider how your child would be free from a nagging parent, mental unrest because he has unfinished business, and overall conflict that disobedience always brings in the home. Talk about walking in freedom!

Here are some more examples of how discipline brings freedom in various areas of life:

Discipline: Plug in your cell phone every night to charge it.

Freedom: You don’t have to worry about whether your battery will run out in the middle of a call. Your family members don’t have to wonder whether they will be able to reach you.

Discipline: Put things away as you finish using them.

Freedom: You don’t waste time and energy searching for the items you need. The discipline of taking two minutes to tidy up each time saves you from spending half a day (or more) sorting through the numerous piles that have accumulated.

Discipline: Give every reading assignment your full attention.

Freedom: You are prepared for the narration or exam questions and don’t have to re-read the whole thing to learn what you could have learned the first time through.

Discipline brings freedom! Now, keep in mind that self-discipline is the ultimate goal. It’s not true freedom if you are always depending on someone else to prod and push you. That’s why discipline is such an important part of our children’s educational process. Notice that word “process.” We guide them with discipline from without until they can make the transition to discipline themselves from within. Charlotte said, “This subject of training in becoming habits is so well understood amongst us that I need only add that such habits are not fully formed so long as supervision is necessary. At first, a child wants the support of constant supervision, but, by degrees, he is left to do the thing he ought of his own accord” (Vol. 3, p. 108).

So where are you in that process? Are you in the constant-supervision stage, just starting to lay down a new “habit rail” in your child’s life? Are you somewhere in the transition-by-degrees stage, making small, incremental adjustments that are encouraging your child toward self-discipline and success in a habit? Or are you seeing the fruit of your child’s exercising self-discipline in a particular habit and the freedom that it is bringing?

Wherever you are in the process, don’t forget the wonderful result that you and are working toward. When you’re tempted to focus on the effort and exertion of helping your child develop self-discipline in a particular habit, take some time to meditate on the freedom that will come because of your consistent efforts.

Right now think of a habit that you are trying to cultivate within your child. What kind of freedom will that habit bring once it is instilled?


  1. I am new to this site, but not new to the CM ideas–they are what drew me to homeschooling. I really see the need for good habit-formation. I have not focussed on this–and wish we had. I plan to work on this with all of us this year. I am just not certain of HOW. I would love any tips, ideas, links.

  2. I’d like to know HOW (the process!) you get your child to listen to you the FIRST time. Mine is 5 years old now. I’ve tried and tried, but we’re no where near “obeying the first time.”

    I want the freedom–I want him to have the freedom. I just don’t know what the process is!


  3. Habits are something that are so important for everyone. Because I was not trained in good habits growing up, it has been such a struggle for me to learn how to do everything in a logical and timely manner. I have come leaps and bounds but it has taken me all 13 years of my marriage. I want my daughters and son to grow up with good habits instilled in them so their adult lives can be spent on more profitable endevours.

  4. “How” is the ultimate question, you’re right! Here are just some random thoughts and links that might point you in that direction, mom25 and Roxanne.

    • The general principles for how to instill habits were covered in our series on Habits earlier this year. Click that link and it will give you all the posts we have written about forming habits. The main idea is to select one habit to work on, talk with the child about the benefits that will come from developing it, then be vigilant for several weeks to encourage your child in the discipline of that habit. Great living stories and examples can also motivate your child toward it, as can natural consequences — both positive and negative.

    • Throughout her writings, Charlotte also gave some specific ideas and tips to develop specific habits. This was the key treasure I was after when I started researching the topic last year. Our Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook is a collection of those tips listed by habit. I wish I could just list them for you here, but it’s a huge topic. (The book is 240 pages long!)

    • One note: if the child has already developed a bad habit, you can’t just eradicate it. You must replace it with the related good habit. For example, if the child has developed the bad habit of dawdling, you need to concentrate on cultivating the opposite habit: attention and prompt obedience.

    • As for how to cultivate prompt obedience, the main principle is to apply the consequence sooner. Most children are trained to obey, but the key is when they obey — when mother’s voice reaches a certain decibel level, or when mother counts to three, or when mother’s face turns red. You get the idea. They know that when that point is reached, a consequence will follow if they do not obey. So the key is to move the consequence up and apply it matter-of-factly after you have told the child the first time to do something. Consistency is the key to both the child’s self-discipline and your own. If the child is old enough to understand what is happening, you might want to sit down with him during a neutral time and explain that things are changing because you want him to develop this important habit of obeying the first time he is told to do something. Briefly explain how this habit will be crucial when he is an adult — whether he is working for someone else or servicing his own customers. Then follow through with making sure you have his attention, stating your command once (you might even have him narrate what he is to do), and applying the consequences right then if he does not obey immediately.

    Here are a couple of other articles on Discipline 101 and Discipline 102 from our sister site, Intentional Parents, that might give more details for you, Roxanne.

  5. I’m still having problems getting my 9yos to obey immediately. He’s a “when I get around to it”(never, but planned to) or at least a “I’m going” (then move a little faster). Motivation is the key. I haven’t really been able to get him to be willing to work on something…care that it needs to be worked on. He doesn’t want to be nagged or yelled at but doesn’t take a hint either. He has developed a lack of self-confidence that he even can get better because he won’t try. I’m sure it’s my fault, but I just can’t get him to take a step to try. I’m getting so frustrated.

  6. I’m reading Laying Down the Rails (wonderful!!!) and CM’s #6 book and it is so convicting. I too, don’t understand the process, to instill habits first in myself and then in my children in a beneficial way. I read about CM saying to use a pleasant voice and to bring the child back to what they didn’t do, but it becomes a bit hairy when we have unexpected company on the way, or when there’s so much to do, or when no one has been doing what they are supposed to. It’s hard for me to keep tabs on all my children at all times and I only have 4 children (1 toddler). Many times I find that my expectations have also been unrealistic adding to my frustration. I may need some guidance on what is realistic for my homeschool day.

    Natural consequences, like taking away free time, is not effective for one of my children. He just doesn’t care. He’s my biggest dawdler. He requires (or maybe I’ve made him dependent) constant reminders and nudging.

    I’m one who doesn’t see the trees for the forest, so I’m really praying to the Lord for help and VICTORY in this area.

    Praying and Learning,

  7. could you go over some natural consequences for a child who doesn’t obey the first time. or should you spank each time (but for a child just learning, that could be a lot of spanking.

    thank you.

    • Consequences can take many forms. Rachel is right that “motivation is the key.” It’s not really an effective consequence if it doesn’t motivate. Here are just some consequences that come to mind. Ultimately, you need to find what works for your particular child, but I hope these will at least give you a starting point as you think through and pray through the process. Keep in mind that you need to have many tools (consequence options) in your discipline-development toolbox. If you use only one, it can lose its effectiveness.

      • Physical stimulus — Spanking doesn’t have to be the only option. With young children, I often physically “help” them to obey by moving their arms or legs or whatever is involved in what I expect them to do. For example, if I’m trying to get a toddler to hand me a toy as we’re cleaning up, if she doesn’t respond after my first directive, I might go to her and firmly but gently move her arm and hand to the toy in question, help her grasp it and take it over to where it belongs. Obviously, this cannot be done with older and larger children, but it works well as an option for little ones. They seem to develop a type of “muscle memory” that tells them to move when directed to with this option. Again, this is not effective if used exclusively, but can be helpful as an option sometimes.

      • Removing obstacles — If a child does not obey after my first direction, I often look to see what obstacle is hindering their obedience. Are they playing with a toy? If so, I calmly and firmly take that toy away with a brief, “I will hold this until you are done obeying me” and a meaningful look. If being alone in her room is an obstacle because she sits on the floor and daydreams instead of putting on her shoes, I might go with her to get her shoes and bring them (holding her hand, if necessary, to keep her on task) back to where I am working so she will feel my expectant eye on her as she puts on her shoes. In that case, I am removing her privilege of solitude because she’s not ready to handle it in a responsible manner yet. If a child throws a toy, I take it away and put it up immediately; and they catch on very quickly. If two children are arguing over a toy, I take it with the brief explanation, “If this toy is causing you to be unkind to each other, I’ll just put it away.” These are not threats, they are matter-of-fact consequences that are only effective when we follow through immediately every time. (Yes, developing discipline in our children requires huge amounts of discipline in ourselves!)

      • Adding responsibilities — Another type of consequence is adding responsibilities. This works more for the older children, but might be effective with younger children in certain situations. If a child does not give full attention to her lesson and doesn’t have it done in the allotted time, she has a second session of that lesson added to her schedule later in the day. If a child tries an experiment, against your better judgment but with your permission to try, and it doesn’t turn out as he had hoped, he has the added responsibility of cleaning up the mess. If a child does not put her clothes in the hamper and, therefore, they don’t get included in the laundry, she has the added responsibility to do her own laundry the next day.

      • Removing privileges — This type of consequence is most effective if the privilege is somehow related to the action, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, if the child is allotted fifteen minutes to play a computer game but abuses the privilege and plays longer, she doesn’t get to play on the computer for a set amount of days (the amount can be dependent on whether this is her first “offense” or a repeating occurrence). If the child is continually tipping his chair back on two legs, he has to stand for that meal or that lesson (or however long you need to make the time); he loses the privilege of using that chair. Whatever the child is abusing, he loses.

      Sorry for the lengthy post, but this is an important topic and has many facets. (And we haven’t even touched on the importance of Mom’s attitude and how that attitude is conveyed in facial expressions and tone of voice!) I hope these little ideas might get your creativity flowing. What a blessing that so many moms have a desire to develop discipline in their children! It’s so much easier to take the “whatever” approach, which can be devastating to your children’s future. Praise God for moms who care enough to keep on keeping on in the journey toward the freedom that discipline brings!

  8. thank you sonya. you have been most helpful. i’d look forward to a post on mom’s attitude some time. =)

  9. Hi,

    My child is generally compliant. He just turned 2-yr old, and has “whineful” days, where he would whine just about anything. Mostly a “self-pity” whine.
    when he whines for no reason but “self-pity” , i will intercept him and say “give me a nice big smile, or show me your nice big smile and i will smile at him.” Sometimes he will smile and then walks away and ends with a whine. its such a bad habit – I wonder how did he pick it up in the first place.

    I have really no ideas how to untrain this behaviour, any suggestions?


    • Sounds like you’re on the right track — trying to intercept that whiny thought as much as possible and change it. A couple of other ideas come to mind.

      You could treat the whining as a cue that he is tired and needs more rest. Now, that may or may not be the reason, but you can treat it as such. When he is whining, kindly tell him, “You seem to be whining. You must be tired.” And put him in his bed for a 2-minute rest. No toys, no books, just a rest. If tiredness is a factor, he might actually fall asleep and benefit from the rest. If tiredness is not a factor, he should get the idea really soon that whining = bed.

      If he is using a whiny voice to ask for something, have him do it again using a “kind voice.” If he doesn’t change the whine, he doesn’t get what he was asking for . . . and he must be tired (see paragraph above 🙂

      Take courage, Sharon! I well remember dealing with this issue. Who knows where it comes from? But you can change it. Here’s a little article I wrote about an ah-ha moment I had when I was dealing with whining in my oldest.

  10. Thank you for the examples of “how”. We do not spank in our family, and its often hard to find advice that isn’t centered on spanking.

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