Replacing bad habits with the good ones.

Just gonna’ write it… I hate getting up. I love sleeping and wish I were sleeping right now. Yesterday I actually felt a little bit of loss for the days when I was so sick I couldn’t do much. I have no excuse today. I feel okay with some Motrin. The kids are eating their food and getting ready for the day, expecting me to provide the schedule. I am waiting for my coffee to melt the darn things so I can get some relief, but as soon as it does I know I’ll be fine. We have been getting back into the swing of things for over a month now and each morning I still contemplate heading back to bed after feeding them. It’s what I did for so long. It was habit.

Sometimes my kids get such a bad attitude I want to slap them, but I don’t (we never, ever lay hands on their faces… ever). We’re pretty laid back. I try not to stress the kids out and make them keep house perfectly. Those are my issues, not theirs. I only ask that they clean up dirty messes and food messes… anything that attracts bugs or causes mold; my nemesis. Me and husband pick and choose our battles and believe strongly in letting the boys make their own choices when it comes to what they would like to wear, if they want to wear a coat on days when I wear one, and they decide which extra curricular activities they take part in.

The older I get the more I begin to take on the unschooling philosophy of trusting the kids to know when they are hungry, when they are cold, and what interests them. Having expressed that, I am convinced, along with many, many other homeschooling moms, that unschooling only works when kids are active and not passive. This does not work well when kids fall into the consumerist “slacker” mentality. Which is why we don’t allow video games, electronic games, and idle time-wasters into the house on a regular basis. Those activities kill the desire to learn faster than all else with my kids, and many others. Also, on school days they need to ask before turning on the television because it’s a privilege, not  a right or a babysitter. The habit of dulled nonthinking mind may be easily produced by sitting the child in front of a television for long periods of time. When we do these things frequently, and we have at times, it becomes a habit. And the only way to break a bad habit is to replace it with another habit. Here’s what I’ve learned about that…

Much of successful homeschooling/parenting depends on the preparation of the environment. For example, providing rich learning content all around the house… science and art supplies they can easily use freely, lots and lots of books everywhere. Since moving into a home with a great big yard and work to be done on the house, they get real life experience when me or husband garden and work on projects. We always have little helpers and they do their share. Once I caught a kid inside watching cartoons while the rest of us worked in the yard and when I called him out he was almost relieved to be doing something. A sense of purpose is so fulfilling. And taking part in keeping and maintaining the house is a habit.

Kids are not born with self-control. Quite the opposite. It’s up to the family to show them how to live and carefully lay down the lines of habit for them to follow. When we work on replacing one habit at a time rather than trying to change all of them at once, it’s effective and less stressful for the boys. It’s tempting to try to make them little mini “me’s,” but that’s not the point. I don’t want them to develop my OCD and that’s another reason we only work on one habit at a time, such as a morning routine. Too many becomes confusing and it can easily turn into mama harping on them all day long and getting frustrated and turning them into little balls of miniature stressful mommies.

Seasoned homeschooling mothers have written over and over again (I researched this topic of habit recently) that if we take the time to develop good habits in the boys, eventually our days will become smoother and easier. Even when unschooling it’s important to develop habits of study and concentration. While those who let habits take care of themselves have weary days, endless friction, and they don’t respect or listen very well to anyone else, mothers who are diligent in teaching a child habits secures for herself “smooth and easy days” according to Charlotte Mason.

We are given 18 years with them for a reason. It takes about that long to help a child grow into a person who settles easily and doesn’t fall into restlessness, with the mind blowing about. The habit of a wandering mind and no sense of direction or ability to keep themselves focused, leaves them in confused states, never knowing that it’s okay to be silent and rest and be comfortable with their surroundings. The responsibility to train them up is ours, not theirs. Once a habit is formed, they don’t spend hours wandering around complaining “there’s nothing to do” and “I’m bored.” The child who has formed good habits will always find rest or exploration at his disposal.

As I wrote in the beginning, most mornings I wake up and want to head to the couch or the bed. That’s where I spent much of my time before my most recent abdominal surgery. It became a habit. As I walk out of the fog and into an actual life, it’s my turn to form habits within myself. It’s really important for the kids to see me reading and writing; taking care of chores and responsibilities before watching a movie or sitting down with a cup of coffee and my journal; and keeping my temper in check. Kids know what they see. One of the reasons we homeschool is so that we can show them what is acceptable and expected in our lives. I am not sure what they would learn about that in school, but at home they are not with 20+ kids their own age who are still learning habits themselves (or not). At home they are not emulating all of the fads, trends, slang, and way-too-grown-up-information instead of the good habit of reading for pleasure. My oldest child learned about sex at 5 years old from a cousin in the public school system. Yeah, not okay with me.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours watching children, teaching preschool and Sunday school classes and even designing curriculum for a large mega-church a few years back. I learned that most kids find reading boring. They need hands on activities back-to-back, and even then they still get bored. I noticed that some children have not even learned how to play with toys. They pick them up and use them as weapons because they have not developed the habit of imaginative focused play. Many kids on the other hand love to read and make a craft and then play make-believe until their parents pick them up. There is a difference and I have spent a decade watching that difference in young pre-school/elementary aged children. I am ensuring that the habits learned in my kids are the ones that will improve their lives and help them succeed. And it starts with us, me and Husband.

Thank you for reading, have a good one.

Love,

Jackie

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