I’ve made hundreds of decisions already today, and so have you. You just don’t remember them because they were habits. They didn’t require a lot of mental effort and stress. For example,
Should I get up? . . . Now? . . . On which side of the bed?
Should I take a shower? . . . Brush my teeth? . . . Which should I do first?
Should I get dressed? . . . Should I start with my right foot or left foot when I put on my socks?
How about breakfast? . . . Which hand should I use to eat with? . . . In which chair should I sit at the table?
We do most of those things by habit, and habits reduce stress. The stress comes when you have to think about something—when you have to consciously make the decision.
Over the past several months I’ve been studying what Charlotte Mason had to say about habits. Cultivating good habits is at least one-third of doing a CM education. Remember the motto: Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life? Well, the “discipline” part is all about intentionally forming habits in our children’s lives. And those habits don’t have to be limited to brushing their teeth and making their beds. Charlotte outlined habits in basically five broad categories: mental, moral, decency and propriety, physical, and religious.
Charlotte likened habits to railroad tracks. Once we lay down those rails, our children can “run on them” smoothly and with little effort or stress. And, of course, we get to reap the benefit of those rails as well: “The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children” (Vol. 1, p. 136). Think about it: how would life be different if your child had the habit of obedience? or the habit of paying attention?
Along with specific suggestions for specific habits, Charlotte also gave some general guidelines that apply to cultivating any habit.
- Be diligent to deal with any departure from the desired habit immediately. Habits are formed by consistent repetition.
- Concentrate on one habit at a time, merely keeping watch over those habits already formed.
- Motivate your child with interesting and inspiring examples of people who demonstrated that habit. (Much more effective than nagging!)
- Once a habit has been started, be extra careful not to excuse a lapse in that good habit. Any break in the “repetition chain” sets you back to the beginning.
- Repeat. In other words, make it a habit to cultivate good habits in your children!
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing the more than fifty habits that Charlotte mentioned in her writings in those five categories: mental, moral, decency and propriety, physical, and religious. We’ll also look more in-depth at the Top Three habits that she mentioned most.