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One of the best gifts you can give your child is to help him become a person of excellent character. That is what habit-training can do: mold a child’s character.
“ ‘Sow a habit, reap a character’; that is, the formation of habits is one of the chief means whereby we modify the original hereditary disposition of the child until it becomes the character of the man” (Vol. 2, p. 124).
Habits shape character. It is never too late to fine tune your character, even as an adult, but think of the potential of spending 18 years cultivating good habits—with a support system to help! Habit-training a child holds a lot of promise.
Part of the success of that promise depends on your helping your child make the transition to habit-training himself as he grows older. If people can continue to work on new good habits all our lives—and we can—it is important that you teach your child how to carry on that work on his own.
As his will grows stronger, he will be able to make his own decisions. That is good! That is part of the process of internalizing the triggers and making the habits an integral part of his own person. He may start obeying when he is young because you spotlight the trigger of your command and apply a consequence to reinforce his actions; but eventually, the goal is that he will decide to obey on his own. That’s the secret to a young adult who obeys even when you’re not around. He has made a decision of his will.
So make sure you equip your child for that transition as he grows. Help him understand the three-step process of the habit cycle; the role of his will as a gatekeeper and the secret of changing his thoughts when he needs a mental break; the importance of watchfulness, persistence, and tact. All of those practical principles are discussed in Laying Down the Rails for Yourself: Good Habits Are Not Just for Kids.
It’s important to discuss the whys behind the habits with an older child. Focus on the principles that support the decisions, not just the actions themselves. Give him what you wish you had: an endowment of good habits already in place and the know-how to continue forming habits the rest of his life.