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The Importance of Growth in Habit and Character

The Principal's Blog
April 25, 2021

At RMCA, we talk often about the power of habit in the formation of a person's character, education, and life. Like many before us, we believe that strong habits that help a child or adult learn, form strong relationships, and endure hardship with joy undergird any worthwhile education. Besides releasing a person from constant choice (e.g. "do I choose this or that?"), it sets one on a course of consistently doing the right thing, regardless of the cost.

This is at the heart of a character that has a growing desire to love and worship God, care for others, and seek to live out the true, good, and beautiful in all capacities of one's life. This is the kind of character that sets up a child with a much higher probability for faithfulness as a spouse, parent, employee/employer, and citizen. Not only is this the kind of person that we want our children to be, it's likely the kind of person that we want them to marry! Our world desperately needs adults who care more about the needs of others, not just what they want. The Church needs men and women who are bold in their living out of the Gospel in their families and communities. All of this starts in the heart, mind, and body of a child now.

As we've shared before, the Scriptures and history of the Church are full of reminders and commands related to how important this growth in habit and character is.

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you arise. Deuteronomy 11:19

Train up a child in the way he should go;

    even when he is old he will depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

These and many other passages and whole counsel of the Bible attest to the critical nature of nurturing children in habits and character that leads to loving "the Lord our God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4). It is up to us as parents--not teachers, not the government, not pastors, not counselors and therapists--to help our child grow in this master relationship that feeds all other relationships. No one else can do this responsibility for us. It is ours to humbly take up for the time that we are all given, which is all-too-short.

But we are not left alone. We have the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the Church. We have other good people in our lives who can complement the good work that we are doing. We have schools like RMCA. We also have all of the generations who have gone before us and who have left a bread-crumb trail of experience and wisdom that we would be foolish to ignore.

One such person is Charlotte Mason, whose ideas and life serves as one important resource for our school's educational vision. Based on her experiences with thousands of children, families, and teachers about a century ago in Great Britain, she wrote down many very practical pieces of advice. I encourage you to read for just another minute or so some words that have great relevance to each of us right now.

From her book Parents and Children in a section entitled, “Discipline: A Serious Study for Parents,” here's Charlotte on habits, discipleship, and character:

"Not mere spurts of occasional punishment, but the incessant watchfulness and endeavor which go to the forming and preserving of the habits of the good life, is what we mean by discipline; and, from this point of view, never were there such disciplinarians as the parents who labor on the lines we would indicate. Every habit of courtesy, consideration, order, neatness, punctuality, truthfulness, is itself a schoolmaster, and orders life with the most unfailing diligence.

A habit is so easily formed, so strong to compel. There are few parents who would not labour diligently if for every month's labor they were able to endow one of their children with a large sum of money. But, in a month, a parent may begin to form a habit in his child of such value that money is a bagatelle [of little importance] by comparison... We all know that we think as we are used to think and act as we are used to act. Ever since man began to notice the ways of his own mind, this law of habit has been matter of common knowledge, and has been more or less acted upon by parents and other trainers of children. The well-brought-up child has always been a child carefully trained in good habits. But it is only within our own day that it has been possible to lay down definite laws for the formation of habits..."

A little later, Charlotte offers practical steps and counsels to parents who want to purposefully help their child stop a hurtful habit and pick up a helpful one. 

“First––Let us remember that this bad habit has made its record in the brain. 

2nd––There is only one way of obliterating such record; the absolute cessation of the habit for a considerable space of time, say some six or eight weeks. 

3rd––During this interval new growth, new cell connections, are somehow or other taking place, and the physical seat of the evil is undergoing a natural healing. 

4th––But the only way to secure this pause is to introduce some new habit as attractive to the child as is the wrong habit you set yourself to cure. 

5th––As the bad habit usually arises from the defect of some quality in the child it should not be difficult for the parent who knows his child's character to introduce the contrary good habit. 6th––Take a moment of happy confidence between parent and child; introduce, by tale or example, the stimulating idea; get the child's will with you.

7th––Do not tell him to do the new thing, but quietly and cheerfully see that he does it on all possible occasions, for weeks if need be, all the time stimulating the new idea, until it takes great hold of the child's imagination. 

8th––Watch most carefully against any recurrence of the bad habit. 

9th––Should the old fault recur, do not condone it. Let the punishment, chiefly the sense of your estrangenient, be acutely felt. Let the child feel the shame not only of having done wrong, but of having done wrong when it was perfectly easy to avoid the wrong and do the right. Above all, 'watch unto prayer' and teach your child dependence upon divine aid in this warfare of the spirit; but, also, the absolute necessity for his own efforts.” 

Consider how these principles can apply and support your own good work with your child or children. Try one or more of them this week! 

It is our opportunity in "our own day" to pick up this great privilege of helping a child grow up, this image of God who already possesses immeasurable worth and potential but needs the patient and wise upbringing of adults who are looking out for his or her best.

This is our charge. Again, we are not alone. Pray for your fellow parents and teachers. Pray for your children's classmates. Seek out someone you have not spoken to in a while. Keep bringing your best self to our campus each day and help others understand now more than ever the opportunities that we have together in a school that prioritizes character and relationships as the enduring foundation for a life-long education and a successful and faithful life.

We are in this together!

Mr. Byrd