More from Charlotte Mason on Discipline

Dear Reader,

I already did one post about Charlotte Mason and discipline, particularly thinking about how she viewed corporal punishment (she was not a big proponent of it). But as I skim through her second volume, Parents and Children, again I find she has more to say on the subject.

Charlotte was not opposed to all punishment. She favored letting children suffer the natural consequences of their actions. She gives the example of a child who will not eat his porridge going without his plum (perhaps we should say casserole and cookie instead?). But overall, she is not a big fan of punishment:

“Our contention is twofold: (a) that the need for punishment is mostly preventable; and (b), that the fear of punishment is hardly ever so strong a motive as the delight of the particular wrong in view.”  [p. 90]

When Charlotte speaks of discipline, she means training the child before they have done wrong so hopefully little punishment will be needed. And I think it is a wise parent who is proactive about such things. Sin is serious and as much as we are able, we should train our children beforehand so they fall into it as little as possible. Punishment is reactive and occurs only after a wrong has been done. When there is punishment, there has already been a failure, certainly on the child’s part but perhaps also on the parent’s.

Furthermore, every time a wrong is done, it is that much more likely that it will happen again. Charlotte’s method of discipline is chiefly habit-training. In her view, habits drive much of life. They are like well-worn roads in out hearts and minds. And to even drive down a road once begins to establish it in our selves. So when the child does a wrong, he begins to make  a path. And the more he does it, the deeper that road is and the more entrenched the path is. This is a bad thing if the path is a wrong one but a good thing if the path is a right one.

But what if you or your child already have bad tracks established? The cure for bad habits is to replace them with good habits. It is not possible to leave a deeply entrenched road  unless one builds a new road. Charlotte says that this will take 6-8 weeks [p.91].

Honestly, I don’t do much with habit-training for my children. For a while it was not a part of Charlotte’s philosophy that attracted me. “Habit” seemed like a substitute for real virtue. That is, if something is done from habit, it is not done from the heart and doesn’t count. Does that make sense? I think of something like Bible reading. It is easy to get to the point where one does it daily out of habit but it leaves no mark on the mind or heart and therefore is not really virtuous or beneficial.

But I do now see Charlotte’s point that  habits smooth life out. The more good things we can do from habit, without having to think about them and force ourselves to do them, the better. I can see easily how this applies to something like putting one’s toys away. Such things done automatically without particular thought are done much easier and take less time and energy away from the rest of life.

So perhaps I had better think more about what habits my household should be working on.

Have you done habit-training with your kids? Where did you start? What worked well and what didn’t?


2 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve never thought of it this way before but teaching manners could be seen as teaching good habits. The fact I have zero tolerance regarding this with my young kids is a way of teaching them that 100% of the time they have to e.g. say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or ‘good morning’ or whatever and it should be a habit. I know what you mean about being mindful too. For example, it’s nice to say ‘good morning’ with some feeling behind it rather than in a robotic way, but it’s best said than not said and I think as you say it, most times you will feel something as you say it.

    Bible reading is a bit different and I think it’s best not to do something important like that if you don’t feel in the mood, better to wait until you are ready to be inspired, but perhaps only wait for sometime during the same day, not let it slip into another day, or whatever if your habit, same with exercise etc… if that’s a daily task set in the house (if only it was in ours!!)
    I have heard that it’s more effective to replace a bad habit with a good one than just try and break the bad habit. Thanks for the thoughts! I got my CM 6 volumes yesterday btw. Not sure when I’ll get to them though 🙂


  2. Posted by laurke on August 7, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    but…if you don’t have the habit of daily Bible reading, then when will you have the time to do it feeling? I have a daily time and often its done out of habit…which is better than not doing it at all. Other times, when I do better preparing my heart, its more meaningful. But without the habit in place, it would happen hardly ever.

    Yes, I try to train the kids into good habits. They are being taught one way or the other, and I’ve found that being proactive about it reaps bigger rewards. I’ve started a new chore chart with a ticket system a couple weeks ago (but just started implementing the ticket portion this week) and I have already seen improvements. Very encouraging…maybe I won’t have to tell him to brush his teeth 5 times a day for the rest of my life…. LOL


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