To find more success with habit training, look at where you have been successful.

Do you find that when you think about habit training, you usually think of all the habits that aren’t going well? That’s my own typical reaction. I read Charlotte Mason’s writing on the topic, and I come away resolved to do better – a little overwhelmed with all the habits I want to address within myself and my children. But sometimes I think that our sense of inadequacy makes us overlook an extremely helpful resource for habit training: our successes.

Habit training happens whether or not we mean to do it.

Charlotte Mason writes in Home Education:

Such habits as these, good, bad, or indifferent, are they natural to the children? No, but they are what their mothers have brought them up to; and as a matter of fact, there is nothing which a mother cannot bring her child up to, and there is hardly a mother anywhere who has not some two or three––crotchets sometimes, principles sometimes––which her children never violate.

When we reflect, our children almost certainly have some less-than-great habits that are a consequence of our parenting. But I think we can also find some good habits that we have instilled in our children. Consider: what principles do our children never violate? Where have we, even without meaning to, helped our children build a good habit? When we step back and consider this, not only is it encouraging, but it also gives us insight into how we can approach building other habits.

Lessons learned from habit training success

I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of the city center. When I need to run errands in the week, I’ll often take advantage of this and travel on foot with my boys. Because they go at a snail’s pace walking, my older boys (6 and nearly 5) ride on scooters while my toddler goes in the pushchair. 

While it’s nice going somewhere quickly, it’s not entirely straightforward. We have to cross a handful of roads, some of them quite large and busy. This can be nerve wracking with two children travelling independently and my hands full with the pushchair, but this situation has resulted in excellent habits around safety.

My boys stop and wait for me before crossing a road. They slow down and walk over to  press the call button for the pedestrian crossing. They stop and wait for me if they are too far ahead, and  they stay close as we get closer to the city center and the roads and sidewalks get busier.

I don’t say this to show off. Again, I think we all have succeeded at instilling some good habits in our children, even if we didn’t do it intentionally. Let’s step back and look at why these habits are going so well for us. From my experience with teaching my kids road safety, I can think of several reasons we’ve been successful.

I am convinced it is necessary.

If my children were not safe on their scooters, there could be extremely dire consequences – the worst. It is absolutely necessary that my children are safe while we approach roads and cross them. But I’m not just convinced in a theoretical way. I’m convinced to the point where I consistently take action to back up my convictions.

If I thought that safety was important, but I didn’t check my children had their helmets on, tell them where to stop and wait for me, and insist that we cross roads together, then my children wouldn’t have a habit. They would just learn that I often say what I don’t mean. Instead, my children know that they must be safe, and that I will take action to ensure they are so – even if it means that we need to return home, or I need to fold their scooter away and carry it for a bit while they walk.

My children have crystal clear expectations.

My kids don’t have any surprises when they are out. They know the route we are taking, where to stop, when to wait, when to turn around. This comes from me repeatedly telling my kids what they need to do before we leave the house, and even now, telling my kids the plan in stages (“Go to the corner and when I get there, we’ll cross the street together”). 

We have had lots of practice.

A habit isn’t really a habit until you start doing it on autopilot. It takes a lot of practice to get to that point. My boys have had this: riding scooters to the park, the city center, Aldi, the bus stop, church. Over and over again, my kids have practiced riding scooters safely. In the end, there is nothing but practice that can cement a habit.

I guard this habit carefully and consistently.

Even with my kids doing a great job, I don’t relax. By this time, it is habit for me to check where they are, ensure they’ve stopped at a road, that they are going slowly near a crossing, that they aren’t messing around while we wait to cross a road. In Charlotte Mason’s words, I am consistently watchful, even though my kids seem to ‘get it’. 

Using your good habits to troubleshoot habit struggles

When I look over the reasons why my kids are doing so well with this habit, I see all the elements of habit training: a conviction to act, setting clear expectations, practicing, guarding the habit. We need all of these in order to be successful in habit training. And if we are struggling with a habit, we are likely to find that we are struggling with one or more of these areas.

But this is where we find the huge benefit of understanding our habit training successes. When we are having a hard time, we see more easily what we are doing differently. For example, if I am having a hard time with another habit, I can ask myself:

  • Am I half-hearted in my commitment to this habit? Do I see it as necessary?
  • How does my tone of voice compare to when I’m out with the boys?
  • Are my kids getting enough practice?
  • Do my kids understand my expectations? And am I as consistent in my expectations as when my kids are about to cross a road?

Sometimes we don’t need the internet to figure out where we’re going wrong or how to put it right. We just need to look for where we are already doing well and use those experiences to troubleshoot.

What about you? Let me know what good habits do you have in your home. What do you learn from them that can help with other habits?

A letter from me to you, every week.

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