Habits Q & A: Parent’s Character; Maintaining a Sweet, Even Temper

Today we’re talking about how the parent’s character affects habit training and how Mom can keep a sweet, even temper.

We’re continuing our series on habit questions and answers, and the two questions we’re discussing today have to do with the parent’s habits rather than the child’s.

The Parent’s Character

The first question is

Question: How does the character of the parent impact the habit formation at home?

The character, or habits, of the parent have a huge impact on habit training in the home. Many of the habits that Charlotte talked about are ones that she felt the children would “catch” or pick up just from living in the atmosphere of your home

The whole group of habitudes, half physical and half moral, on which the propriety and comfort of everyday life depend, are received passively by the child; that is, he does very little to form these habits himself, but his brain receives impressions from what he sees about him; and these impressions take form as his own very strongest and most lasting habits. Cleanliness, order, neatness, regularity, punctuality, are all ‘branches’ of infant education. They should be about the child like the air he breathes, and he will take them in as unconsciously.

Home Education, pp. 124, 125

Remember, the process of educating your child involves, yes, the discipline of good habits, actively training in those good habits, but also the atmosphere of your home. The two work together. And the atmosphere of your home is made up of the ideas and habits that rule your life as the parent.

How you go about habit training is as important as the habits themselves.

Sometimes it’s easy to think of the atmosphere of your home as some kind of static, passive, “cloudy” thing that is just there. But the atmosphere of your home is very active; it is intertwined with everything you say and do. Think of it this way: how you go about habit training is as important as the habits themselves. The ideas that rule your thoughts and actions as you are habit training will have just as big, if not more, of an impact than the taught habit of, say, putting the toys away or obeying promptly. If, as you are training in habits, you are angry, manipulative, or forceful, you are sabotaging your efforts. The child will pick up more from those character traits than from the habit lesson.

Yes, none of us is perfect. We all have moments of anger or frustration or impatience that we regret later. Don’t beat yourself up over those. Confess it, make it right, and move on. I’m talking about when those regrettable thoughts and actions are habitual—when they are the ideas that rule your life, when they are part of your character—that’s when they become the atmosphere of your home.

On the flip side, Charlotte encouraged us that, 

Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help, passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes; he does not think of these things, may never think of them, but all his life long they excite that ‘vague appetency towards something’ out of which most of his actions spring.

Parents and Children, p. 36

Why is your character so important? Because it is showcasing your own habits of thinking and behaving. Character is formed by habits. A person who is known for having a kind character is kind habitually, not just once in a while. Character showcases habits. The two are intimately intertwined.

And your children are watching. They are learning from who you are and what you do. 

Nine times out of ten we begin to do a thing because we see some one else do it; we go on doing it and—there is the habit!

Home Education, p. 118

So I encourage you, don’t think about habit training as something only for children. Good habits are a lifelong pursuit, and your habitual patterns of thinking and behaving—your character—as an adult will have a strong impact on your child’s future.

Charlotte put it this way:

Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.

Home Education, p. 118

Keeping a Sweet, Even Temper

The second question we want to discuss today zeroes in on one particular habit that we, as parents, can struggle with. Here it is:

Question: How can a mother maintain the habit of a sweet and even temper when in the heat of the moment? And this is something I know that I always struggle with, I lose my temper and it all flies out, and then I feel bad and I have to do damage control. And also as a follow-up to this, what of ill tempers that have already been formed in the family? So it’s not just the mother who is ill-tempered, but maybe the children are as well. And what is the best way to turn this around?

I have four very practical suggestions.

First, much prayer. Especially prayer for humility, because God will pour out His grace on the humble, but He resists, He stiff-arms, the proud. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want God stiff-arming me, pushing me away. The only way to receive that grace is in a humble attitude. So first, much prayer with humility.

Second, more sleep. I know some of you are in a season of life in which your sleep is interrupted as you care for the children God has entrusted to you. But let me encourage you, as much as possible, to make sleep a priority. It’s much easier to be kind and patient when you’re not exhausted. This is not a selfish thing to do; it is a conscious decision to implement another practice that will help you care for your family. As much as possible, make sleep a priority.

Third, simplify. It seems like I tend to lose my temper most easily when I’m dealing with an overload of physical things or with a time pressure. Think about those tension-filled moments you’ve had during the past couple of weeks. Did they involve organizing, cleaning, moving, fixing, or monitoring physical things like toys or clothes or electronic devices? Or was there perhaps an element of hurriedness involved, a time pressure to get somewhere or get something done? Let me encourage you to simplify your possessions and your calendar or schedule. It’s much easier to remain peaceful and serene when you are not hurried by your commitments or harried by your possessions. I encourage you to take a look at a talk I’ve recorded called “When More Is Less: A Call to Simplicity.” It will walk you through some practical steps to help you evaluate and simplify your home, your schedule, and your home school. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to keep a sweet, even temper when your life is simplified and you and your children have more breathing room.

Fourth, give yourself and your children tools to help you resolve conflict peacefully. Often those anger flare ups, the hot tempers you mentioned, have to do with some kind of interpersonal conflict within the family. I didn’t know how to handle those conflicts when my children were young, but then I found a tool that was very helpful. 

I heard Ken Sande speak at a homeschool convention, and he presented the tools I needed to help my children learn how to resolve conflict peacefully and Biblically. Here are some of the main ideas that helped me.

We all have desires, and desires are not bad in and of themselves. It’s when that desire becomes what he called “a monster desire,” and you want it more than you want to please the Lord—that’s when we have issues. So identifying what that monster desire is offers a great place to start. 

Then he explained five A’s of confession. When you have done something wrong, rather than just say, “Sorry,” you realize that there is much more involved. So you Acknowledge that what you did hurt somebody else, you Admit that you were wrong, you Apologize to them, you Accept the consequences for what you did, and you Agree to try to alter your behavior in the future. All five of those heart attitudes are involved when you are confessing your faults to each other. So during a neutral time, not in the heat of battle, I taught my children those concepts, and then we practiced them when the conflicts occurred.

We also practiced the four promises of forgiveness. When a child has been in the wrong, he needs to apologize and ask for forgiveness, but then the other child has a responsibility; because when he says I forgive you, he is giving four promises, and it’s a little rhyme: Good thought, hurt you not, gossip never, friends forever. Those are the four promises you are making when you say, “I forgive you.”

There’s a wonderful visual aid, too. Ken explained that conflict is like a slippery slope. We want to stay on top of that slope and keep the peace. That might mean you choose to overlook an offense (“A man’s wisdom gives him patience. It is to his glory to overlook an offense,” Proverbs 19:11). Or you might go discuss with the person and try to work out your differences one-on-one. And if that doesn’t work, you might take somebody else with you (Matthew 18). So that’s how to stay on the top of the slope.

But if you attack the person, whether physically or verbally, you have fallen off one side of the slope and become a peace-breaker. On the other hand, sometimes we slide off the opposite way and give the person the cold shoulder. We say, “No, there’s nothing wrong,” but we snub them all day and give that icy attitude. That’s when you’ve become a peace-faker. You’re pretending nothing’s wrong, but it is. The goal is to stay on top of the slippery slope and be a peacemaker.

So all of these practical tools really gave me something to use with the kids; when the tempers flared we could deal with it Biblically. Ken Sande has expanded his ministry to include much more relational wisdom, but you can still find the Peacemaker resources on his website.

So those are my four suggestions: pray a lot, prioritize sleep as much as you can, simplify your possessions and your calendar or schedule, and actively teach and practice those practical tools that will help your whole family learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

One more note: I think this momma was wise to ask the question as, “How can I work on my sweet, even temper?” Because that’s where it starts. I’m not saying you have to be perfect at it. But once that desire is ruling your life—that is where your eyes are set, on that goal, and that’s what you are praying over every day, and that’s what you are filling your mind with Scripture about and thinking about, and trying to view your home through that lens—that ruling idea is going to permeate the atmosphere of your home. Will it make it perfect? No. Our kids are still sinners, just as we are. But it will go a long way toward regulating the atmosphere of your home.

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