Character Building - Habits
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
MEN and women of middle age know how difficult it is to break a bad habit, and how easy it is to form a new one. A large part of the training and education of children consists in helping them to acquire right habits of thinking and doing. What is a habit? Some one has defined it as "a tendency to do that which we have frequently done before." When a man has been kind and courteous for years, it is easy to be kind and courteous. When a man has practised lying and deception for years, it is almost impossible for him to be frank, truthful, and straightforward.
Parents must help their children to form correct habits, and the first one for the little children to form is obedience. They should be led to obey till obedience is easier than disobedience because it has become a habit. This does not mean "breaking the child's will," to use an old expression. A child's will should never be broken, but it should be bent and molded by gentle and yet positive measures. The child will be better and happier if he is obedient to a tender and affectionate mother. The mother should try to be so just, so consistent, and so sympathetic that she will be worthy of trust and obedience.
This is a large subject, and space prevents long discussion of its importance in child-training. How cruel it is to permit children to become slaves of low and debasing habits! How noble it is to help them by kindness, tactfulness, and firmness to form habits that are good and elevating! Give children plenty to do. Let them be always making something in which they are interested and in which you are also interested. It may be a snow-fort or a little house made of blocks, or a scrap-book made of pictures, or any one of a hundred other things that you will teach them to do. Encourage them to work and to plan things themselves. This will help them to be resourceful and self-reliant. Help them to acquire the habits of work, obedience, truthfulness, and courage.
If a child has three or four good habits, it will be easier for him to form other good habits. If he is truthful and obedient, it will be easier for him to be honest and courteous. If he has learned habits of industry and kindness, he is apt to be cheerful, contented and unselfish. These are some of the good habits to be cultivated, and cultivating good habits always helps us to keep out of bad habits. But evil habits like weeds will appear; destroy them, if you can, before they have had time to grow strong. When selfishness appears, help to crush it by encouraging the child to do unselfish acts. If the child does things that are cruel, train him to acts of kindness and help-fulness.
Little can be said here about destroying bad habits. If possible, overcome and eradicate them before they become con-firmed. Unfortunately in this world diseases and bad habits are more contagious than health and good habits. What a vicious and depraved thing a bad habit is! It is unpleasant, even to them of such evil habits or tendencies as lying, drinking, idleness, fretfulness, vanity, swearing, and a host of others. Parents should use "eternal vigilance" in helping their children to conquer or control evil tendencies before they become habits.
Boys and girls, it is very important that you think about bad habits and how to avoid them. Perhaps the following outline will help you in such thinking: (I) Bad habits that injure health; (2) that destroy reputation; (3) that dishonor or disgrace one's family; (4) that would waste money; (5) that take away self-control; (6) that incur needless risks, as gambling; (7) that are offensive to others.
In this volume there are little essays on the virtues that should be developed into habits. You may be much helped by reading the articles on Courage, Kindness, Self-control, Cheerfulness, Perseverance, and others from which useful lessons of like import may be drawn.