Teaching Children Habits and Principles
Several months ago, I was walking with my three young children in Manhattan when a well-dressed man stopped and, in a brief conversation, entreated me to enjoy them. His son—a teenager—was out of control, it seems, on social media and in life. This encounter renewed my resolve to understand better what I can do as a parent to avoid this outcome. I’ve written previously that there’s much in today’s culture that’s attractive but not good for our children, and as parents, we need to be on guard. However, we can’t shield them forever, so we need to instill in them the wherewithal to resist temptation.
It’s my observation that human behavior is motivated by necessity, emotion, habit, or principles. As newborn babies, we naturally act out of necessity, to relieve hunger, cold, and discomfort.
Then, as the child grows, emotional factors start to rule behavior. What the child likes or wants becomes a preoccupation. And perhaps you have observed what happens when a child’s myriad desires are too often gratified: You end up with a selfish young tyrant.
British educator Charlotte Mason said, “Selfishness is a tyranny hard to escape from,” and this I believe to be true because I wrestle with my own. So this is where I see the job of the parent: to help the child develop good habits and the will to live by principles. We need to instill good habits and good principles in them so they don’t lose the connection with their moral conscience, which guides their whole being, actions, thoughts, and feelings.