Habits Q & A: Helping a Timid Child and Habits While Moving

Today I want to answer more of your habit-training questions. We have two on the docket for this post. So let’s dive right in.

If you’ve missed any of the previous Habit Q & A posts, you can check them out here.

Helping a Timid Child Gain Confidence

Here’s the first question:

Question: For children who are very timid, are there habits that could be developed in them so that they can become more socially confident?

I’m glad this parent gave “more socially confident” as a goal. It is quite possible that the child is more of an introvert naturally. So the goal is not for that child to become “outgoing”; the goal is to help that child feel more comfortable and confident in navigating social situations. It’s important to consider each child as a person when you are setting your habit training goals. 

A habit may look different for one child than for another. Remember that the habits that Charlotte Mason encouraged us to work on are what many of us would classify as character traits: the habit of diligence, of cleanliness, of kindness, of respect. Those broad categories of habits are applicable for everyone, but we can customize the specific demonstration of those habits for each child, taking into account his developmental progress, his personality, his background, his age, and other personal considerations. 

So let’s think this through for a child who is very timid. Here are some suggestions:

Don’t Make a Tendency an Identity

Be careful not to make that tendency part of that child’s identity. Our identity is comprised of the ideas and beliefs that we hold to be true about us. And many of us gather those thoughts and beliefs from people who are close to us: what they say about us and what they believe about us. So try to not play the soundtrack of “this child is timid” in your own mind every time she’s in a social situation. And especially don’t introduce her or excuse her as “Susie’s our timid one.” The more she hears that, the more she will accept that as part of her identity. If you need to explain her behavior to someone, you can use phrases that focus more on the behavior than the character trait, like “Looks like Susie isn’t quite comfortable greeting you today.” 

Clarify Your Expectations

What would you consider to be an acceptable polite response from your child when someone greets her? You need to get a clear mental picture of what you’re working toward, making sure that picture fits your child as a person. Maybe you’re a hugger, but that’s not the only way to greet someone. Think through what kind of greeting would be acceptable within your child’s capabilities and personality.

Baby Steps

Now break down that acceptable response into baby steps. For example, if your goal is that the child will look the person in the eye, smile, and say “Hello,” that’s three specific habits that you can work on a little at a time. Step one: help the child develop a habit of looking at a person who has greeted her. If looking in their eyes is too intense at first, perhaps she can start by looking at the person’s nose. Then take the next step and see if she can keep her gaze there while counting 1-2-3. Once she has that habit cultivated, you could expand it to adding a smile. Then you might expand to looking, smiling, and waving at the person. After that, you could work on adding the vocal greetings, perhaps starting with “hello” and gradually working up to “Good morning, how are you?” if that is your goal. Just get very clear on what this habit would look like for this child and then break it down into baby steps.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Habits are formed by repetition. So start by role-playing at home. Let the child build confidence performing the habit with those she is most comfortable with first. Then as her confidence grows and you see progress, enlist the help of a trusted friend or relative and give your child opportunities to practice with them—in different locations. It’s easy to relegate all of our practice and role-playing to our own homes, but being in an unfamiliar setting or around lots of people can increase the challenge of those practice moments. You might start by giving your child advanced notice when you have arranged one of those practice moments. Perhaps you’re going to a friend’s house to pick up a book. Let your child know that this will be an opportunity to practice greeting that friend. Rehearse it before you go. Set your child up for success in that situation by thinking ahead to what to expect and practicing.

Inspire Your Child

As you are working on the habit of a polite greeting, inspire your child with the idea that a greeting is like a gift that we give to someone. Tell about a time when someone’s greeting was a gift to you. Read stories about encouraging others and helping others. And most importantly, offer expectant encouragement in your attitude toward that child’s efforts. Growth in this habit will be gradual. Be careful not to force it, but never stop believing that your child can grow and become more confident navigating social situations. That growth may not come as quickly as you want it to, but don’t lose heart. Keep expecting it, keep working on it, and keep encouraging it to happen.

Keeping Habits on Track While Moving

The second question for today is this:

Question: How do we stay on track with habits while in the midst of moving to a new home? What kinds of preparations do we have to make? How do we lay hold of the CM principles and practices while countless changes are taking place and adjustments being made?

Moving brings many challenges, and staying on track with habits is one of them! What’s interesting is that, if you look at the habits that you’ve already instilled, chances are that they might be tied to one of three things in your current house: a habit might be connected to a location in that house, or to an object in the house, or to a certain time of day as you go through your daily routines in that house. So transferring the family out of the house can remove many of those habit cues that were in place. 

For example, perhaps your child has cultivated a habit of orderliness by putting away his school supplies on a certain shelf when he’s done with them. Remove that shelf from the picture and what is the habit supposed to look like now? 

Or maybe your child has the habit of emptying the trash can in the kitchen every evening. That habit is cued by the object of the trash can, the location of it in the kitchen, and the time of day. Take away the trash can and the kitchen, and it will be easy for that habit to fall by the wayside.

So it can be helpful to think through those habits and identify the cue that prompts each one. If it’s a location cue in the old house, can you substitute a temporary mobile location until you get settled in the new house? So instead of organizing his school supplies on a shelf, could you substitute a bin or a backpack that can go with you during the transition time? That temporary location can help keep the habit of “Put away my school stuff when I’m done with it” going.

If it’s a time-prompted habit, perhaps you can shift it to be connected with an event rather than a specific time. Moving has a way of upending regular routines. Meal times and bedtimes can get shifted around as you try to flex with unexpected situations. So perhaps instead of a habit of “do your bedtime routine”—pajamas, brushing teeth, tidying your room, whatever that routine involves—instead of “do the bedtime routine at 8:00,” it might become “do your bedtime routine when it’s time for bed.” Tie the habit to the event rather than to a specific time on the clock during the interim.

If the habit is cued by an object, see if you can take that object with you or find a substitute similar object in your temporary or new location. So maybe the kitchen trash can will be packed away, but you can find a different trash receptacle in your temporary lodging and keep the habit going with that object. It might just be a trash bag sitting in the corner, but take your child over there and show it to her, and explain that it will still be her responsibility to empty that trash every evening. Walk her through it the first time or two, so she knows what is expected, then hold her accountable to continue her habit with that different-but-similar object.

Other habits are more general and aren’t tied to specific locations or objects or times of day. Habits such as obedience, attention, best effort, kindness—we want to continue to encourage those habits, perhaps even more during the stressful times that moving can bring. Those habits that have to do with how we treat each other and how we direct ourselves will play a bit part in the craziness that moving can bring. You might want to sit down with your children before the move and talk about how those habits can make the move harder or easier for everyone. Then encourage each other on the difficult days and cheer each other on during the easier days. Give grace, but don’t give up. With a little thinking, a little creativity, and a big helping of intentionality, you can keep good habits alive and well during a move.

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