Sunday, August 16, 2015

The flip side of habit training

Our youngest son is now four and as I revisit Charlotte Mason's ideas on habit training, or maybe some collectively gathered ideas on training and educating, I've come to realize the importance of the flip side of habit training - the side that maybe we don't consider often enough.

I think for the most part, we think of habit training along the lines of our homeschooling pursuits. Things like obeying mommy, being quiet while reading, no drawing or ripping books, no bickering, no whining or fussing, no touching breakables, sitting still, etc.. And then there are the intellectual habits - living books and no twaddle, an ear for classical music, accurate observation in nature, etc.

These are really important habits when you're a homeschooling mom. Without some of them, chaos ensues affecting everything and everyone. It is good for us to take the time to train our children in right behavior and to make it a priority in the early years, as it most certainly does make way for smooth and easy days down the road. What is equally important, and sometimes, I think,  neglected, is the flip side of habit training - treating them as a person. 

Let me explain.

So many of the struggles around the very early years come from a little person, who is quite stumbly and uncoordinated, who wants to do what everyone else is doing and have what everyone else has..

They want the knife, the big boy bike, the sharp stick, the glass, the toy. They want to climb the rock, walk the ledge, close the door themselves, run across the busy street, help cook next to a burning stove, open the fridge and fetch themselves a drink, plug the vacuum in the socket, etc.

They are already 'persons' these little people. They may not have the coordination, but the desire to know and understand, and the ability to think and process as they send their little tendrils out into the curious world is already fiercely within them. As their parent, we are presented daily with fearful and wonderful opportunities to guide them in those "first-born affinities" that fit their newborn existence to existing things, as penned by Ruskin in The Prelude, which Charlotte Mason quotes so often.

What I often see are mothers, who, from sheer frustration in handling the child's daily desires and curiosities, arrive at the end of their rope resorting to bribes like candy, a new toy, play with my cell phone/ipad, watch TV, or anything else that will buy just. a. few. minutes. of. peace. I completely sympathize. I can assure you with four kids I've had my share of days.

But what if we stop for a moment and try to consider the child, even the six-month-old, the one-year-old, the two-year-old, as a person, as CM says?

Next time, when the child whines or fusses, stop and ask yourself, before jumping to exasperation - What is all this fussing about? What is it they want and are unable to do?

Ask them, "What do you want?" "Stop your fussing and talk to me in your regular voice. Tell me what you want." And then listen.

Some things, obviously, are out of the question. And sometimes they really do need discipline, but sometimes there's a little person with a valid desire that may be easier to accommodate than we may think.

They want to get into the drawer for a spoon?
You: "No! Get out of the drawer, I'll get it for you!"
Child: "Whaaaaaaaaa! Fuss, fuss, fuss." 
OR, what if instead we tell them to stop fussing and ask for what they want nicely and then bring them a step stool and show them how to open the drawer safely? What if we set aside a spot for their special utensils and show them where that is and how to get them? "This side is yours, this side is no touch." What if we took the time to teach them how to avoid getting their fingers pinched when closing the drawer?

They want to get into the fridge? "No! Get out of the fridge! Dinner is in ten minutes!"
Child: "Whaaaaaaaaa! Fuss, fuss, fuss." 
OR, what if instead we put something on the bottom rack of the fridge, accessible for them to drink or snack on, like a cold sippy cup of water and some carrots?

They want to cut vegetables like mommy with a knife? "No! It's too sharp!"
Child: "Whaaaaaaaaa! Fuss, fuss, fuss."
OR, what if we set up a step stool, a cutting board next to ours, and a blunt cheese knife with some cheese for the child to "cut"? Or have them wash the vegetables for us in the sink or even in a bowl of water on a towel on the floor?

They want to walk the dog?
Mommy: "No! The dog is too big, he will pull you!"
Child: "Whaaaaaaaaa! Fuss, fuss, fuss."
OR, what if instead we hold the leash and they can hold the loose end of it? Or maybe tie another string to the leash for the child to hold?

They want to play with their siblings in the middle of a Monopoly game. "No! You mess everything up!"
Child: "Whaaaaaaaaa! Fuss, fuss, fuss." 
OR, what if instead we let them roll the dice for us every turn and pull a card when needed, or pass money from the bank to the players?

They want to get wet in the mud or shallow creek?
Mommy: "No! It's too messy!"
Child: "Whaaaaaaaaa! Fuss, fuss, fuss."
OR, what if instead we let them and bring a garbage bag, a hand towel, and a change of clothes?

They stopped in the way and want you to look at a bug in the street.
Mommy: "No! Let's go, we're late!!"
Child: "Whaaaaaaaaa! Fuss, fuss, fuss."
OR, what if instead we take one minute to stop and look and wonder with them at the crack in the sidewalk? 

These are just examples, but you get the idea.

Speaking about the qualities proper to a ruler, Charlotte Mason, in Vol. 3, p.18, says of Queen Elizabeth:
Her adroitness in getting over many a dangerous crisis has been much praised by historians; but, possibly, this saving grace was not adroitness so much as the tact born of qualities proper to all who are set in authority––the meekness of one who has been given an appointed work, the readiness to take counsel with herself and with others, the perception that she herself was not the be-all and the end-all of her functions as a queen, but that she existed for her people, and the quick and tender open-minded sympathy which enabled her to see their side of every question as well as her own––indeed, in preference to her own. These are the qualities proper to every ruler of a household, a school, or a kingdom.
To expect a child of young age to always simply obey while shutting out any and all opportunities to grow and learn is downright dehumanizing. And we don't have to look far to realize it is a symptom of our society that says children don't belong in the real world, they are incapable of doing real things and are merely to be tolerated and set in front of a TV or an ipad.

Don't buy in to it. Electronics can never truly substitute for the kind of learning a young child of this age needs any more than a stuffed animal can substitute for a real pet dog. And they are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. They are persons.

When we treat them as persons and reasonably help them instead of always shutting them down, frustration is lessened and we find our relationship in a better place to then work on those important habits. Treating them as persons from the beginning also helps pave the way for habits of attention, curiosity, and self-education that will aid them in their CM education. They are encouraged to wonder, try, investigate, and think. What a difference from the child who is continually told "No" except when the parent initiates an activity.

As a person, even a little person, we want to be treated as valid and valuable. We want to touch things, know things, try things, experience things, and be seen as an important part of the family, not just a nuisance. The young child wants to grow in independence. If we take just a moment to consider them as a person rather than always throwing out a knee jerk "No!" we may be surprised at what joy and discovery ensues between you and your little person.

Come Out with Me 
by A.A. Milne

There's sun on the river and sun on the hill...
You can hear the sea if you stand quite still!
There's eight new puppies at Roundabout Farm-
And I saw an old sailor with only one arm!

But everyone says, "Run along!"
(Run along, run along!)
All of them say, "Run along! I'm busy as can be."
Every one says, "Run along,
There's a little darling!"
If I'm a little darling, why won't them come and see?
There's wind on the river and wind on the hill...
There's a dark dead water-wheel under the mill!
I saw a fly which had just been drowned-
And I know where a rabbit goes into the ground!

But everyone says, "Run along!"
(Run along, run along!)
All of them say, "Yes, dear," and never notice me.
Every one says, "Run along,
There's a little darling!"
If I'm a little darling, why won't them come and see?


  1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who asks their children to use their "regular" voices! :-)

  2. Yes! Regular voice, calm voice, normal voice, whatever term we use to remind them to talk to us calmly. My husband tells them he doesn't speak "whinese" :)

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this reminder. I have a three year old. A delightful, cute-as-a-bug, pudgy-legged three year old...who also happens to be busy as all get-out, into everything, determined to do everything her three older siblings do, and doesn't sit still for more than 6.5 seconds. With my first, I stopped and listened, looked, observed...with the second, I did so a little less, the third even more so. Now, I find her whining and fussing and "baby voice" insufferable, and yet am reminded tonight of how I can take a second to stop and see her as a person, not as an obstacle in my never-ending to-do list that is my home. Thank you.

  4. You're welcome! So glad to hear it :)

  5. Thank you for this!! Great reminder and encouragement.

  6. This is beautiful and just what I needed to read tonight. Thank you for these encouraging words and truths on how to use daily opportunities to teach and validate. Thank you!

  7. Perfect post for me today. Conversation with my two-year-old earlier this week when I picked him up from the sidewalk and carried him to his car seat since we were late picking up his sister:
    Him: "Why you do that?"
    Me: "We need to go!"
    Him:"I was going, just slow. I like to look around."

    Exactly the reminder I needed.