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I can still picture the textured wall, the shiny smooth top of the spinet piano, and the white kitchen timer with its seemingly unmoving dial. I was supposed to be practicing my piano lesson, but I probably spent half of the allotted time listening to that timer’s ceaseless ticking. I knew I was supposed to practice every day, but I usually waited until my mother told me to.
Then something happened that changed my whole outlook on practicing: I was asked to accompany the choir. Suddenly I had a reason for practicing and a goal to work toward. Practicing became my idea, a tool I needed to reach my goal. Mom no longer had to remind me; I reminded myself. Mom just gave helpful advice and encouraged me.
Perhaps you’ve seen that difference of attitude in one of your children. Once a child wants to do something—adopts it as her own—it’s amazing how much progress can be made!
This principle is true in habit-training too. You will make much faster and smoother progress if you get your child’s will on your side. Charlotte counseled us to
take a moment of happy confidence between parent and child; introduce, by tale or example, the stimulating idea; get the child’s will with you (Vol. 2, p. 175).
What might that conversation look like? Here is an example Charlotte gave.
“Johnny,” she says, in a bright, friendly voice, “I want you to remember something with all your might: never go into or out of a room in which anybody is sitting without shutting the door.”
“But if I forget, mother?”
“I will try to remind you.”
“But perhaps I shall be in a great hurry.”
“You must always make time to do that.”
“But why, mother?”
“Because it is not polite to the people in the room to make them uncomfortable.”
“But if I am going out again that very minute?”
“Still, shut the door, when you come in; you can open it again to go out. Do you think you can remember?”
“I’ll try, mother.”
“Very well; I shall watch to see how few ‘forgets’ you make” (Vol. 1, pp. 122, 123).
Have you picked out one habit to focus on for your child? Think about how you can briefly and encouragingly present the benefits of that habit. Consider what you know of your child and what might help her adopt that habit as her own desire. Then plan for a moment of “happy confidence” between the two of you.
If the new habit becomes your child’s idea—something she wants to do—it will make your job a whole lot easier.
Next week we’ll talk about another tool you can use in habit training, and you’ll see how training in habits is like driving to the grocery store.