Habit and Children Part 2
Every habit is the result of repetitions: If we wish a child to acquire any particular habit, whether it has to do with learning to play some instrument, or with a manner
of speech, we must make sure that he repeats the desired act a sufficient number of times—and the habit will be there.
The problem is thus largely one of providing suitable inducements for repeating the act. This does not mean that we must offer children some reward for practicing, or for doing things in general the right way. There are various ways of providing the inducements for repetition. Thus, the child who mispronounces words from infancy, needs usually but to hear the words pronounced properly, and through imitation he will repeat, the correct sounds until they become habitual with him.
Most habits are acquired by children because certain acts which they perform bring with them various satisfactions, which in turn furnish the inducements for further repetition, until the habits are fixed. When we are trying to fix habits in a young child we should introduce the desired actions into the child’s routine, and insist upon their performance on every occasion—whether it is saying the prayers nightly or putting the toys away. And the desired bits of conduct must be practiced at the time when they have meaning in relation to other affairs. It is not enough to take the single step correctly all by itself. The dancing master makes the child go back and start over again, so that the right step may become one of the fixed series of right steps.
Until the habits are fixed, allow no exceptions to occur. Every exception has its dangers, because it may introduce new interests, new satisfactions, tempting to a repetition of the exception and making this the new order. The same principle applies to the breaking of habits. Every exception is like a switch that may let the train of events get side-tracked, with possibly disastrous results.
The child must stop chewing his gum at once. Whatever it is that must be stopped, must be stopped the instant the action is noticed, and not allowed a little extension of time for practice in the objectionable act. Do not allow children to say “Just this once” and get away with bad habits since this is the greatest enemy to the development of good habits; and it is the greatest obstacle to the conquest of bad habits.