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Video Series Part 16. Chapter Thirteen: Establish a Strategy

“Godfrey was not likely to be very penetrating in his judgments, but he had a sense that his father’s indulgence had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness and helped his better will.” ~ Silas Marner


After inspiring a child with an idea and building an alliance, then, establish a strategy for forming a new habit. Ask the child, “How can I help you?” Often they themselves will offer a great strategy. The adult’s job is to inform the student’s ignorance and support the student in overcoming their weakness. Discipline is not control; it is formation, cultivation, and helping a child grow up to form healthy relationships. Ambleside teachers prayerfully identify two areas for each child’s growth, and then act with tact, watchfulness, and persistence to form new habits.


In Part 16 of our video and discussion guides, Bill St. Cyr explains the need to establish a strategy in the formation of good habits. This is accomplished with a growth focus — the formation of new habits formed out of the right kind of heart, the right kind of intrinsic motivations which must be cultivated relationally. Always casting a vision of what it could be and reinforcing the notion that there’s a different and better way to do things. When we hang in there with the child and remain the troubadour of a virtuous life, day in and day out with tact, watchfulness and persistence, then we find in the child those rails of habit laid down which will lead them to easily and smoothly have the kind of relationships with God, self, others, work, and the whole created universe that we long for our children to have.

Tact, Watchfulness, and Persistence. 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.


Stages in the Formation of a 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.


The Dangerous Stage.

Now that Johnny always shuts the door, his mother’s joy and triumph begin to be mixed with unreasonable pity. ‘Poor child,’ she says to herself, ‘it is very good of him to take so much pains about a little thing, just because he is bid!’ She thinks that, all the time, the child is making an effort for her sake; losing sight of the fact that the habit has become easy and natural, that, in fact, Johnny shuts the door without knowing that he does so. Now comes the critical moment. Someday Johnny is so taken up with a new delight that the habit, not yet fully formed, loses its hold, and he is half-way downstairs before he thinks of the door. Then he does think of it, with a little prick of conscience, strong enough, not to send him back, but to make him pause a moment to see if his mother will call him back. She has noticed the omission, and is saying to herself, ‘Poor little fellow, he has been very good about it this long time; I’ll let him off this once.’ He, outside, fails to hear his mother’s call, says, to himself––fatal sentence!––’Oh, it doesn’t matter,’ and trots off.


Next time he leaves the door open, but it is not a ‘forget.’ His mother calls him back in a rather feeble way. His quick ear catches the weakness of her tone, and, without coming back, he cries, ‘Oh, mother, I’m in such a hurry,’ and she says no more, but lets him off. Again, he rushes in, leaving the door wide open. ‘Johnny!’––in a warning voice. ‘I’m going out again just in a minute, mother,’ and after ten minutes’ rummaging he does go out and forgets to shut the door. The mother’s mis-timed easiness has lost for her every foot of the ground she had gained.1


Questions and Thoughts to Consider:


  1. Describe what it is to be tactful, watchful, and persistent. Describe what it isn’t.
  2. Explain the stages in the formation of a habit.
  3. What are your areas of strength and weakness in helping a child form good habits? How can you grow?
  4. What does it mean to be a ‘troubadour of the virtuous life’ for a child. Why is this important?

1 Charlotte Mason, Home Education, 122-124.