Yesterday I read this from Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series (Volume 1)*, regarding habits:
For example, and to choose a habit of no great consequence except as a matter of consideration for others: the mother wishes her child to acquire the habit of shutting the door after him when he enters or leaves a room. Tact, watchfulness, and persistence are the qualities she must cultivate in herself; and, with these, she will be astonished at the readiness with which the child picks up the new habit.
"Johnny," she says, in a bright, friendly voice, "I want you to remember something with all your might: never go into or out of a room in which anybody is sitting without shutting the door."
"But if I forget, mother?"
"I will try to remind you."
"But perhaps I shall be in a great hurry."
"You must always make time to do that."
"But why, mother?"
"Because it is not polite to the people in the room to make them uncomfortable.'"
"But if I am going out again that very minute?"
"Still, shut the door, when you come in; you can open it again to go out. Do you think you can remember?"
"I'll try, mother."
"Very well; I shall watch to see how few 'forgets' you make."
For two or three times Johnny remembers; and then, he is off like a shot and half-way downstairs before his mother has time to call him back. She does not cry out, "Johnny, come back and shut the door!" because she knows that a summons of that kind is exasperating to big or little. She goes to the door, and calls pleasantly, "Johnny!" Johnny has forgotten all about the door; he wonders what his mother wants, and, stirred by curiosity, comes back, to find her seated and employed as before. She looks up, glances at the door, and says, "I said I should try to remind you." "Oh, I forgot," says Johnny, put upon his honour; and he shuts the door that time, and the next, and the next.
But the little fellow has really not much power to recollect, and the mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of his. By and by, after, say, twenty shuttings of the door with never an omission, the habit begins to be formed; Johnny shuts the door as a matter of course, and his mother watches him with delight come into a room, shut the door, take something off the table, and go out, again shutting the door.
Charlotte Mason goes on to say that often the mother will begin thinking, "Oh, Johnny's been doing such a great job with that. He's hardly forgotten at all..." and she'll let up on her diligence once, then twice... and the habit is no longer being solidified.
Now, shutting the door doesn't really happen to be a problem in our house. (In fact, I'm always trying to encourage my children to leave doors OPEN around here. When I hear a door close it generally means that our youngest is being excluded (since he can't yet open a door).)
But I think what Charlotte Mason says about tact, watchfulness, and persistence being qualities a mother must cultivate in herself is right on. I see this so often in myself. I will find myself getting frustrated with whining, or delayed obedience, or poor table manners, or... fill-in-your-own-blank-here, and I will purpose to work on it. And we will. I am diligent, I am purposeful, I am mother-on-a-mission. For the first several times. And then my child will whine and I choose- for whatever reason- to let it go, and then again a second time, and eventually we're back at the same place we began. [Not that my sweet children whine. Oh no. I'm not saying that.]
* You can read Charlotte Mason's Original Series online, by going here.