The Power of Habit

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by Catherine Levison

We all want to raise polite and loving children who aren’t causing our lives or home schools to be in a constant state of friction. Both adults and children tend to be creatures of habit and there is no end to the problems (or, better yet, lack of them) that arise from habit.

It’s a good thing that much of our daily activities are habitual, for example, people operate cars through the power of habit. What would it be like to have to think about the turn signal, foot brake, steering wheel and two mirrors every time we made a turn? What does this have to do with raising children and education? Everything. Much of what we do, and how we do it, is controlled by habit.

I observed the power of habit first hand when we moved the dining room clock in our house and replaced it with a picture. Because the clock had hung there for nine years everyone found themselves disoriented by the change. I don t know how many times I stood in front of the picture mystified, trying to figure out the time.

I also came face to face with the power of habit when we moved into a house that had a sink with reversed hot and cold water faucets. I thought I would grow accustomed to the reversal rather quickly — I was wrong. I would have been able to replace one habit with another if there had only been one sink in the house, however, it wasn t the only one and I admit I found myself in constant confusion when I was in front of this particular sink. I had to think instead of relying on habit.

Charlotte Mason was one educator who recognized and wrote about the power of habit and claimed that even virtues such as patience, meekness, courage, generosity and truthfulness are a matter of habit and can be trained as such. I agreed with her to a point but I did not really know this to be a fact until one time when I paid for my groceries with a hundred dollar bill. The clerk made change, then wrapped it up inside the receipt and inadvertently included my hundred dollars. No one saw this, in fact, I almost didn t look at the wad myself. At the last moment I did look in my hand and saw what had happened. My reaction came so fast even I was surprised. One of my habits is honesty and it was out of habit that I returned the money. Later, I thought about habitual morality and realized its significance.

If you find yourself always telling or asking your children the same things over and over again then this teaching on habit will benefit you. If I had the proverbial nickel for every time I told my kids to put the milk away, I’d be rich. Mason noted that when you find yourself always telling children to do the same thing, you have not trained them in the habits you wish they would perform.

The key is to identify one bad habit at a time in your child (or yourself) and then purposefully replace it with a good habit. We often make the mistake of tackling too many bad behaviors at one time. Success comes when we focus on one problem at a time. It s best to approach the child, clearly state what the bad habit is and then explain how it will affect their future.

For example, if your teenage child prefers to sleep in rather than getting up at a decent time explain to him how this can affect his employment, college grades and ability to catch the bus on time. The goal is to get him to see why he would want to make a change. Make that your first and final lecture. With a view that the child has to exert himself toward the new habit, do not interfere when it isn t necessary. Help as inconspicuously as possible.

Habits ordinarily take six to eight weeks to take shape and become permanent. Then they are habitual and will not need additional work. After the bad habit has been replaced by a good habit you can target a new habit.

For Charlotte Mason’s own words on the subject of habit formation, be sure to check out the book, Habits: The Mother’s Secret to Success, edited by my friend, Deborah Taylor-Hough.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Catherine Levison — long-time homeschooling mother of five and popular conference speaker to parenting and educational audiences throughout the USA and Canada — is the author of several books on Charlotte Mason-style home education.  Visit Catherine online at: http://catherinelevison.com   (Be sure to tell her Debi sent you!)  🙂

You can order Levison’s books online at:

  1. A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-to Manual
  2. More Charlotte Mason Education
  3. A Literary Education: An Annotated Book List

NOTE: Stop by and “Like” Charlotte Mason Home Education on Facebook!  :-)


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2 responses to “The Power of Habit

  1. 6-8 weeks! My ds is only 8, and we are working on a habit with him. It is hard work to be consistent as a parent. I was hoping maybe only 2 weeks, but I see I have a much longer wait:)

  2. I like the image on your blog header and I also like this blog post. Thanks for sharing and if I may add something to this, I would like to.
    Many parents are in the habit of scolding or picking up on the negative, rather than catching their children at good deads and actions and commenting on the positive. This habit of picking up on the negative can take a little while to break, but a child’s resulting behavior makes it a habit worth changing.

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