Human beings are creatures of HABIT! But habits must be TAUGHT! Read HOW you can begin teaching your children to AUTOMATICALLY do the right thing!
"I DON'T WANT to, Mommy!" wails the tearful tot of three years when Mommy has said, "Go to bed now!" OF COURSE he doesn't want to because he's not in the HABIT of going to bed when told! How many times each day, and over how many different circumstances is this the picture in YOUR home? Do your children have the habit of obedience? Do they respond IMMEDIATELY when you tell them to do something? Do they have the habit of coming when called, of closing the door after them, picking up their clothes, answering you immediately, being clean and neat? Chances are — they don't!
How Habits Are Acquired
BAD habits are acquired after only one or two experiences! Remember, it's the pleasurable experience that is most oft repeated. A little baby LIKES the sound of his spoon hitting the floor, and seeing his mother or father pick it up for him. He likes the excitement when he dumps his cereal bowl, or spills his milk, and sees the flurry of motion and sound around him. Naturally, unless he is firmly taught NOT to do these things, he will REPEAT them until they become HABIT! How many children have you known who are habitually noisy, unkempt, rude and disobedient? Perhaps dozens! How many have you known who were habitually quiet, polite, neat and orderly, and always obeyed cheerfully every parental command? If you've known ANY — you have seen a rarity! Never forget children are creatures of HABIT! In the last installment of this series, we saw HOW TO PUNISH your children in love, and how to really get results! Now, in this number, let's understand WHAT are some of the results we want, and how to USE loving punishment and correction, together with the kind, patient teaching, to achieve them. When you, as an adult, say "How do you do?" or "Thank you!" to another person, it is purely automatic. It is not a carefully thought-out procedure, reasoned out in your mind, and arrived at after careful analytical consideration! So with your work, your play, your driving. A truly good driver is actually unconscious of particular manipulations of the clutch, the gearshift (if any, today) the brake and the wheel. He functions as a driver automatically. There are hundreds of things you will do automatically. Why? Because you have learned the habit of doing them. They are not carefully thought-out actions, but automatic reflexes as a result of certain stimuli to the nervous system! When a baby is born, it knows absolutely NOTHING! It is not, as the horse, cow or dog, a creature of instinct! It must be taught everything it is to know! How, then, can you teach your children the correct habits of obedience, cleanliness, proper eating, good posture, orderliness, truthfulness, and respect?
Good Habits Are Acquired Gradually!
As I sit at my typewriter, typing this article for this issue of Plain Truth Magazine, I am thinking in words, in concepts and thoughts! I am not conscious of each letter as I strike the keys. But it wasn't quite that easy back in high school, when I was learning to type! My fingers were stiff and clumsy, and I had to learn the placement of the keys. It's the same in any form of endeavor. But after weeks and months of practice, of experience, of patient REPETITION, you can LEARN a new talent, a new sport, or acquire a new ability! And so it is with your children. The very first time your baby reaches out a chubby little hand to grasp a spoon, he may drop it several times, get it between his fingers, and in both hands, and try desperately to put it in his mouth. He will trade hands with it, bang it on his high chair tray, and throw it on the floor. It is only after weeks and months of patient TEACHING that a child will gradually learn to hold the spoon correctly, eliminating all the unnecessary movements and actions, and finally solving the complicated process of all the muscular movements involved in simply holding a spoon! This is learned through trial and error. Obviously, the parent should place the spoon in the right hand, and show the child how to hold it correctly, helping him along until he is able to do it for himself. The first time a baby drops a spoon, the parent should merely say "NO" and pick it up, placing it back in his hand. The second time, repeat the command, and spat the back of the hand sharply. It won't bruise or injure — but in a very SHORT time, you will have a very small child who will NOT EVER, unless it is a pure accident on a very rare instance, just as any adult will do, drop his silverware on the floor! But remember the principles of the last article! Be perseverant, be instantaneous, be consistent, and be SURE!
Practice Makes Perfect
Some habits are learned almost instantaneously, because they give a pleasant reward to the child. Other habits, and usually the most necessary ones, take a little longer. For example, the child of three to four years of age may have great difficulty lacing his own shoes — tying them in horrifying knots, or hardly tying them at all. However, at the age of five or six he may be tying them smoothly and with seemingly no effort. This is as a result of literally hundreds of experiences with tying and untying his own shoes. It is the constant practice which has made him finally efficient in tying his shoes. If we want a child to hold his spoon correctly, tie his shoes correctly, walk, stand or sit correctly, should not this same desire project itself into all phases of life? Your child can be taught to practice right habits. It is practice, in the right habits, which will bring about perfection. Thus, teaching a child to open or close a door softly and correctly several times in a few minutes will begin to instill in him the right habit of always opening and closing the door correctly. Teaching him to go to the bathroom to wash his hands and face prior to eating as a very young child will instill in him such a habit of doing this that it will carry over into all his adult life! You may have heard it said that children coming from a large family are usually more generous as adults. Why is this? Simply because they were forced through environmental circumstances to learn to share as a very young child. They had to share their toys, bedroom, dinner table, games and, oftentimes, even clothing.
Habits From Satisfaction
The more pleasurable an experience, the quicker the child will form a habit of repeating the experience. Thus, the tiny baby, when accidentally finding its own thumb, begins to suck. This thumb sucking brings about a feeling of solace and comfort which is immediately pleasurable to the child. Only one or two times, and a full fledged habit of thumb sucking is acquired! But this is a bad habit, and should be broken as early as possible. Some modern child psychologists advocate allowing a child to suck his thumb up until ages of five and six or even seven! However, acquiring the proper type of nighttime covering, and dealing with the problem firmly and diligently during the daytime will soon break the child of this undesirable habit — which could, contrary to some popular opinion, cause slight damage to the gums and even protruding front teeth! By using a zipper-type sheet at night, where the child's hands are not allowed to come in contact with his mouth, this bad habit is soon broken. Obviously, since a child learns much more rapidly if the experience can be made pleasurable, the problem arises as to how to make the desirable habits more pleasurable. "Only when some success is attained does the child have a feeling of satisfaction, A few words of praise given now and then for his somewhat bungling attempts will often do more toward helping a child acquire a desirable habit than any amount of unfavorable comments. To point out a child's mistakes rather than his successes, in other words, is to set up in his mind an unpleasant association with the desired act. The wise parent who wishes his child to learn to lace his shoes will compliment him, even though he occasionally misses a hole or falls short of the adult standard" (p. 86, Childcare and Training, Faegre and Anderson). Parents who show only disgust at the mistakes of their children, are presenting a very difficult barrier to the formation of right habits. These are so many and so varied that only a few representative ones may be given here. However, if the principles outlined in this series are applied in individual cases, there are many hundreds of right habits which may be acquired without too great difficulty. And, whatever the difficulty — the results are well worth it!
Perhaps some mothers make a "fetish" out of personal cleanliness, always to be seen chasing their child about with a damp washcloth, and always horrified if they become the slightest bit dirty. This is an extreme; but nevertheless, personal cleanliness should be early instilled in the child as a habit! Obviously, this can only be done, if the parent, in the beginning, keeps the child meticulously clean at all times. It is certainly unattractive and disgusting to see a child whose nose is always running, whose face and hands are always grimy, whose hair is never combed, and whose clothes are in a disorderly state. Jesus said "Ye shall know them by their fruits! " Our children are our fruits! — and you may be sure that where an unclean child is seen, there is an unclean parent responsible for it. If children are always made to clean up immediately upon coming into the house after play, if they always are made to wash and comb prior to each meal, if the first thing they do upon arising is to wash, comb their hair and brush their teeth, they will learn the habit of personal cleanliness very early. Later, in the early school years, when it becomes a matter of personal self-discipline, you will find you have a child who is acutely aware of personal hygiene and cleanliness.
Teach Your Child to Eat What Is Set Before Him
Prepare balanced meals, and give your child only what you feel he will be able to eat! Then, always be sure, unless there is some extreme case such as sickness, that your child eats everything that is set before him. Frequently, parents who express disgust at a certain vegetable in the presence of their children find their children form a "dislike" for that particular vegetable. Remember, your child learns by association! He learns by your example! As already outlined, spanking may be used to teach the child to eat all that is set before him, or deprivation of a reward, such as letting the child go without his dessert, will sometimes gain the desired results. Nature will not let the child starve! Sometimes, mothers feel a child who is made to go without a meal, will "starve to death! " This is simply untrue — and even spinach will acquire a peculiarly interesting taste if the child gets really hungry!
Teach Your Child to COME When He Is Called
Never, at any age, is there an excuse for children to run away from their parents, or to disobey when told to come when called! Don't EVER let your child become like the "average" 18-month described already who, when "asked to 'come here, dear'... either stands still or runs in the opposite direction" (p. 22, Child Behavior, Ilg and Ames) Instead, as your child learns how better to walk, begin to teach him how to come when he is called,. Make your commands short and to the point! "Come to daddy!" "Come to mama!" or, simply using the word "Come!" is ample for an 18-month child. Obviously, the first time you call, the child will not understand what you mean, and probably will not come. This should be accompanied, then, by placing the child squarely in front of you when he first learns to "toddle around," backing away from him a few feet to a chair or convenient place, and 'then accompanying his toddling toward you with the words "Come! " or "Come to daddy! " In this fashion, as already outlined, the child learns by association that coming in your direction is the result of hearing the command "Come! " Later, as he increases in ability to walk, try calling him even if he is walking in the opposite direction. At first, when he doesn't immediately turn around and come to you, go to him, pick him up and turn him around, then back away and repeat the command — holding out your hands. You will find the careful repetition of this practice will soon instill the habit of coming when called in your child. If the child begins to think it is all a game, and laughingly runs in the other direction, what shall you do? Most parents would probably "hate like everything" to punish their child at this juncture, because they would simply reason to themselves "but he thinks I'm just playing! " That's just it! How is he EVER going to find out you are NOT playing — if you don't teach him? In the fashion already outlined, give the command "come here!" If the child runs in the other direction — run to him, spank him by a few firm swats, enough to be felt. Don't just mildly surprise the child! Place him squarely in his tracks, facing in the same direction in which he was going. Retire to the same position in which you were when you made the original command. Repeat the command. This time, the chances are, he will come to you when called. If he, does not, repeat the same procedure again — and again — and again — UNTIL the child has thoroughly understood what is required of him, and has begun to come at your call, regardless of the direction in which he is headed, regardless of what he is doing, regardless of how far away he may be. Perhaps this sounds quite unnecessary to some — but it is exceedingly remarkable to note the scores of parents with little children today who couldn't get their children to come to them when they call if their very lives depended upon it! Seeing children run from their parents in supermarkets, on the streets, in their homes, or anywhere, for that matter, is so common today that one wonders whether the modern world has forgotten that learning to come when called is one of the first things they teach their dogs!
Teach Your Child to LISTEN to Your Instructions
Sounds simple? But it isn't! Again, NO child will EVER listen to his parents unless he is TAUGHT to listen! The parent who constantly says "Did you hear me?" or, "Did you understand?" or, "Pay attention to mama!" is 'the parent who has never learned to teach the child to LISTEN. First grade teachers could form a veritable army of witnesses to tell surprised parents how FEW children have EVER learned to listen to instructions! It is another of the beginning principles in childrearing. It is truly amazing what a few sharp spankings will accomplish to improve a child's hearing! If your child does not seem to hear you when you call, or his mind wanders when you are instructing him,, or he pays no attention to you — the following measures should be applied: Speak only once. Speak sufficiently audibly so that you are sure your child (if he has normal hearing, which we are assuming, since we are dealing with the "average" case) can hear you. In this way, you will be assured at the outset his lack of attentiveness is not due to a fault on your part. If he doesn't hear you, simply go to him, and apply a sharp, but comparatively mild, spanking! Explain to the child he did not listen to you — and tell him to be more attentive next time! Apply the proper methods of positive teaching, followed by swift, never-failing and loving punishment for infractions! In this manner, you will break the bad habit of not listening to parental instructions and admonitions, and instill the GOOD habit of always listening attentively to the parent. In this fashion, whether your child is playing, or engaged in some pursuit which calls for his undivided attention, he will, nevertheless, always, "have one ear tuned" to the voice of his parent! This is another point at which many parents fail — simply because they are never sure their child really COULD have heard them! Use wisdom! If your child is outdoors, and banging on a tin pan or playing noisily with toys, the chances are you should not even attempt to call loudly from in the house, unless there is an open window very near the child's play area. Rather, you should go to a place where the child can see as well as HEAR — and then call your child or give whatever instructions or teaching you wish. I know of a case where a parent was finding herself calling repeatedly for her son. He had a back-yard "project" involving his pets, and was invariably "busy" and "occupied" with them. He apparently didn't hear the calls of his parents. He was reminded to listen carefully, and sternly admonished. Next time, he still didn't come. He was firmly spanked for it! The next day, he came to the door several times when his mother HADN'T CALLED, saying "Mom, did you call me?" Does this illustrate the point? Always be sure any normal child couldn't help but hear, and THEN, if the child does not respond, apply the lesson until he does learn to respond.
Teach Your Child How to Answer His Parents
Remember, one of the greatest lessons any of us can learn is a deep inner sense of respect for authority! One of the attributes of those whom God says are rebellious toward authority is that they "despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities! " (Jude 8). Not only do many children "speak evil of dignities" today, but millions are allowed to "sass" their parents, to talk back, to say "Yeah!" or "Naw! " to parental questions or commands! God says:
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: For this is right.
"Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;
"That it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the earth." (Eph. 6:1-3).
We should show honor and respect toward God by addressing Him as "Our FATHER." We are told to "stand in awe of Him!" and to approach Him with dignity and respect, calling upon Him by the use of the titles of His OFFICE! We are to call upon Jesus as "LORD! " Lord simply means, translated: "Master," "Boss" or "Ruler! " In like fashion, children should be taught to look up to the office and authority of their parents! Just as we are to LOVE Almighty God with our whole heart, our mind, our very beings, and yet show respect — so will the child who truly LOVES his parents be able to experience an even fuller love if he is also taught a deep inner sense of respect toward his parents. This may be evidenced in the manner in which the child answers the parents. It is neither "old-fashioned" nor wrong to teach children to say "Yes, sit!" or "Yes, ma'am!" to their parents. Teaching the child to say "Yes, father" or "Yes, mother" may sound, perhaps, a little too laborious and lengthy and the same purposes may be achieved by a simple "Yes, sir" or "No, ma'am." My child invariably answers me with a "Yes, sir" or a "No, sir" and, in looking back, I can recall having to apply a very mild spanking on only ONE occasion in his entire life to instill in him this habit. It was simply a matter of the positive teaching. He was taught how to answer. You should begin at a very early age, when a child is first learning to put together simple phrases — learning to talk. When asking a child a question, such as "Did you have a good time today?," if the child says "y-e-e-e-e-s "then you should say: "Say, 'Yes, sir!'" and have your child repeat this a few times. As a result of diligent teaching in each instance, within just a very few days, or, at the most, a few weeks — you will have instilled in your child a habit which will last through the remainder of his natural life! At age four, or five, my boy was answering "Yes, sir" on almost every occasion. However, I began to notice frequent slips, and that he would begin to drop off the "sir" on occasion. I said: "Mark, you should always say 'Yes, sir,' or 'No, sir,' when you talk to your daddy, or 'Yes, ma'am' or 'No, ma'am' when you talk to your mother. You have been slipping up on this lately — and forgetting. I'm calling this to your attention — now — to tell you about it as a reminder — so you won't slip up on it in the future. If you do, then I will have to give you a spanking to help you remember — do you understand?" "Yes, sir!" answered my son. However, true to form, he did forget within a few hours, or days — I don't remember now. At any rate, true to my promise, I did spank him for it! I don't believe I swatted him more than four or five times. He tearfully apologized, and I put my arms around him and loved him, telling him I was giving him the spanking merely to help him remember — and that he sometimes needed this help as a part of his positive teachings o he wouldn't forget! He now has a deeply engrained habit which I doubt anyone could break — a right habit of showing respect, not only toward his father and mother — but toward all adults!
Teach Your Child to Perform Certain Definite Tasks
At a very early age, children may be taught to put up their own toys, fold and hang up clothing, help make their beds, clean up after themselves in the bathroom, or do other simple tasks about the house or yard. This is not with the aim of acquiring cheap labor about the home — far from it! It is with the goal in mind of teaching your child one of the most important lessons of life, which, simply stated, is this: TO DO WHAT HE IS TOLD TO DO — WHEN HE IS TOLD TO DO IT! By constantly teaching your child to perform certain tasks about the home, you are instilling several habits within him at once. The habit of obedience; of neatness; of cleanliness; of listening to parental instruction; of answering correctly; and that of performing definite tasks are all involved in this procedure. At first, you will need to "spell out" exactly what is expected of the child. For example: With your child, bend over and pick up one of his toys. Hand it to him, and then, take him by the hand, show him the proper place for the toy. After you have done this a few times,. then you may have him pick it up and carry it to its proper place unaided. After a few times, giving simple instructions all the while, you will find that your child is able to pick up an object from one part of the house, and, progressively, going through several rooms, pull open the right drawer and put it in its proper place. There are two different kinds of "good housekeepers!" The one type is a wonderful worker, accomplishing monumental tasks in a short period of time, and, by 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning always seems to have a spotless home! The other kind seems to breeze through her work with consummate ease — never struggling too hard, never doing such monumental tasks, and yet always keeping a neat and spotlessly clean home. What are the differences between the two? The one probably has ill trained and unclean children — and is living in a family which never puts up anything after it is used. The other simply never allows the house to become dirty in the first place! Her children are following the good examples and careful teaching of the parents — they're putting things away in their proper places. As your child gets to the age where he can understand more than one simple instruction at a time, begin to link together two or even three simple instructions. For example, say, "Johnnie, pick up these toys and take them to your room — and put them away in their proper place. Then, bring daddy his slippers from his closet." Be slow and definite in your instructions. In this fashion, going to his room, and then relating the putting away of one or two objects with the obtaining of another, you have begun to teach your child how to accomplish certain definite series of tasks — how to follow parental instructions! As he grows older, you may increase the instructions proportionately. Again, these may sound like simple principles — yet there are literally vast hordes of parents who have never taken the time or the effort to teach their children how to respond to simple commands! There are so many parents today who are not quite sure their children "understand" them that, perhaps, the following type of situation occurs all too frequently: A small girl was being "brought up" or perhaps it would be better to say, was being allowed to grow up the "permissive" way — the way MOST modern child psychologists advocate. Her family would be talking to guests, and she would appear, beating loudly on a tin pan. Her mother would imperturbably smile and gently say, "Joan, dear, take your pan into the other room, darling, so we may talk Joan would shake her head and continue drumming. Her mother would repeat the request, to which the child finally replied, "NO!" (But isn't this exactly what the parent should have expected, according to the psychologists?) "I want to play here!" Then followed a long discourse by mother, on the rights and desires of other people — how the "grownups" wanted to visit, and would she please be a "good girl" and leave the room? To all this, Joan merely continued shaking her head and drumming. Finally, the mother arose, and led the guests out on the patio, retreating in full flight, leaving little Joan in possession of the field, clearly the victor. The mother murmured, as she left the house, "I'm sorry, folks — but you know how it is — she's so little, and it's so difficult for her to understand...." HOW ABOUT IT? Is this the way you want YOUR child to be? You see, little Joan DID really "understand"! She understood that she could get her own way — that she didn't have to obey her parents' suggestions, and that she could do just as she pleased! This parent, not quite sure the child was old enough to "understand" things on an adult level — and therefore to "reason out" what her logical course of action should be, was actively engaged in TEACHING her child a terrible habit of selfishness, lack of respect for her elders, and disobedience! This is far from an uncommon situation — but is almost a rule in many homes today! First, make sure your child understands the simple, direct commands and admonitions you give — then MAKE your child obey them by piloting him through the first few routines — and then having him accomplish the tasks on his own. In this way, and in this way ONLY, will your child begin to learn to automatically and habitually do the right thing! Next month, we'll continue with more examples of right habits you should teach your children!