In lieu of leaving a comment on MaryAlice's post, I thought I'd temporarily come out of my babymoon (because I'm watching the Phillies game and have time to kill during commercials) and redirect the conversation a bit.
First, let me say that it should be obvious to all our readers that MaryAlice generously accentuated the virtues of my children! You are so kind MaryAlice, and I really do appreciate the sentiment behind your statements, but I think your strong emphasis on the "wonderful" habits of my children has caused the conversation to go in a different direction than what you had planned.
I think the comments to her post were very accurate when they said it is dangerous to compare our children to the children of others. My eldest daughter Gianna was given, by the grace of God, a very polite and thoughtful disposition. As a result, she comes off very well in public, and often times her 3.5 year old brother just follows her lead. MaryAlice would not have written the same things if my 3rd child, whom I LOVE dearly, happened to be born first! Likewise, MaryAlice has two older children who are also VERY naturally polite and come off very well in public. But I digress a bit here, because I don't think this really gets at the point of MaryAlice's post.
I believe her point, and the point of my follow-up post, is that the most important "skill" we can instill in our young children are good habits, which are essentially virtues. Good habits are a prerequisite to other types of learning. If the habits of order, obedience, organization, and the like are not in place, it is very difficult for a child to learn. (As an aside, I also think these habits are essential to enjoying life with young children.) Often, early learning focuses on drilling facts and jamming our children's absorbent little brains with all kinds of information. While many children can learn and memorize all kinds of things, it is far more important to teach good learning habits. These habits will allow a child to learn easily and quickly when the time comes to teach them academic subjects.
And this is why I think it is important that we take habit formation seriously, and work to fix our childrens' poor habits with patient persistence. While I don't think there is a catch-all approach here, as each parent has their own unique style of parenting and each child has their own unique personality, there is one essential element to good habit formation--persistence. As many of our readers have already commented, this area is more about our own discipline than that of our children. And this is what makes it so challenging! How often I see my own poor habits practiced by my children.
And speaking of my own poor habits, I'm not the best at immediately putting my things away where they belong. Unfortunately, when you have a toddler in the house, this can have disastrous consequences. My daughter, like many 5 year old children, also has the poor habit of taking her things off, such as her shoes, and leaving them in the middle of the playroom. In the past few months, she has lost one or both of her shoes more times that I care to count. Initially, I was patient, reminding her that she had to put her shoes away where they belong. When a sandal was lost for days, I was forced to go to the store and buy her a new pair--at which point I began to yell and lose my temper when one of her shoes was missing. But week after week, we were regularly looking for her shoes.
Just last week, Mr. Red and I finally sat down and discussed what we were going to do about this problem. We decided to replace Gianna's bad habit with a good habit. We let her know that there were only 2 appropriate places for her shoes--on her feet or in the closet. We then let her know a firm consequence if we saw her shoes anywhere other than those two places. Instead of yelling or punishing after the shoes were lost, we chose to form the good habit of putting her shoes away. Unfortunately this good habit requires a lot more attention from us, and if we do not approach this issue with patient persistence, I guarantee Gianna will go back to losing her shoes!
These sorts of practical approaches to habit forming, are, I think, the sorts of suggestions and comments that MaryAlice was looking for in her original post. I'd love to hear your thoughts here. How do you approach habit forming with your young ones? What habits do you think are essential for a young child (pre-school or early school age) and how did you approach instilling these habits?