Children - Habit Formation And Habit Drill
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The first thing to note in this connection is that we are all bundles of habits. Habit makes the world go round. Habits keep most people as good as they are. Habits make bad people as bad as they are. Habits determine whether development shall be sound or unsound. Habits often settle the question whether young boys and girls shall grow up happy or unhappy persons. There is a first time that we do everything. If there is a second time it may be an accident. But whether we do it a third time, or oftener, is generally determined by whether somebody has a plan about it. The world could not go on if people did not have certain necessities forced upon them which made for a certain regularity in life. Where boys and girls are left Iike Topsy, just to "grow," they are usually persons whom society has to `take care of later on, in criminal or benevolent institutions. The human machine is too valuable a thing to let anybody take a hand in running it. It must be kept in good condition, it must be regularly overhauled, and it must be regularly inspected, to see that every part is properly functioning and that the whole machine is gaining in efficiency and power.
That begins in the making of habits. Habit is regularity in the performance of anything that leads to effectiveness and power. That, of course, means a good habit. The neglect of this also is a habit, and a bad one. But a good habit, like the one mentioned above, is the choice deliberately of a plan which leads to the repetition of certain acts and motions, and later on of ideas and words which produce automatic action. When an act has become automatic it may be said to be established. The instrument of habit-making is repetition. Do it again and again. Require it to be done again and again. Keep everlastingly at it till it comes almost like breathing. Indeed, certain kinds of deep breathing are established through the habit arrangement.
Just keep in mind that we come into the world with no habits of any kind, and that we are what we are made. Now with boys and girls the making of habit has to be associated first with necessity, like cleanliness, and things which must be done, and pleasure, and interest, and association with those which are adorning if not necessary. But in any case what is necessary must be repeated till it becomes what we call "second nature," because it is a second nature having become automatic. Regularity at school is a habit. So is going to sleep at a certain hour. So is taking up your studies at a given time and really working at them. So is keeping your room in order and shrinking from the sight of disorder. So is taking a bath. And so are most of the things which make for happy and healthful living.
Habit drills should be taken up in every little boy's or girl's life. Regularity of action, erect posture, observation, estimate of time, distance, and size, and many other things of this sort, which involve the use of hands, arms, legs, eyes, ears, and in fact all the senses should be cultivated. The senses are like the keys of a piano, which need the touch of a skillful player. If you play them skillfully, you get a beautifully trained body and an attractive physical personality. If you permit a clumsy player to deal with them, you get clumsiness, unattractiveness, and want of coordination, which often lead to disaster. Here the artist-mother has her chance again. Habit drills begin in the home where the helping in household duties, care of the home, often kitchen tasks, certainly care of the person and the room and the clothes, are instilled as part of the regular working of the machine. Your boy does not need to go to a gymnasium to get drill in stooping down and getting action in the muscles of the back and chest and the like. Just make him pick up his room every morning before he goes to school ; teach him to make his bed; teach him to inspect his clothes before going out, and he will get all these things in a way which is immediately productive. These are the habit drills of daily life. They extend into many things. Sometimes they can be made imitation drills in which others are mimicked or reproduced. But in any ease these drills lie at the base of a sound physical structure. By and by the response comes automatically. At the early stages it is well to begin at a stated period every day. The home habits will do this naturally. But when they have begun to be fixed, they will respond when the occasion arises.