Habit Training in the Preschool Years


The preschool years are filled with wonder, curiosity, and a time to start building the foundations for the future. 

Habit Training in the Preschool Years

As a Charlotte Mason home educator, instead of putting any academic pressure on my preschooler, I focus on establishing and setting up good habits in his life.

Why Habit Training?

Charlotte Mason said, “The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.”

She believed our brains automatically formed habits based on repetition. Our goal as mothers is to bring up children with a bundle of good habits. These habits, she believed, would carry into adulthood.

The three habits Charlotte Mason most talked about are attention, truthfulness, and obedience.

The Habit of Attention

The first habit to focus on is the habit of attention. 

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention. It is, to quote words of weight, ‘within the reach of everyone, and should be made the primary object of all mental discipline’; for whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them.”

Charlotte Mason, Home Education

The habit of attention is critically important to all other subjects and life skills. A child that has developed this habit of attention will have the ability to give his full attention to any subject or skill, whatever it may be, and will serve him the rest of his days.   

During the preschool years, teaching the habit of attention happens “by the way”. 

For instance, when my preschooler wants to quickly give up on a game he’s playing, I encourage him to keep trying for just a little bit longer. As time goes by, we continue this practice of working at something a little longer each time. This foundation, once established, will greatly serve our children as they enter the years of formal academics.

The Habit of Truthfulness

Charlotte Mason put a large emphasis on habit training children to tell the truth. 

She encourages us to require truth from our children and in the case of lying, we should address this dishonestly right away.  

During the preschool years, children often tell imaginary tales and embellish stories. Instead of going along with exaggerating, I ask my child if he’s telling the “real story”. 

In our house, we have a rule: We don’t punish an honest child. If any of our seven children tell the truth, it is always rewarded. 

One way to gently encourage the habit of truthfulness is by reading living books with stories of people that told the truth. Children learn through ideas and are motivated by these examples.

The Habit of Obedience

It’s interesting to note that children are born with a natural bent toward disobedience. How quickly does a child learn to say, “no”?

In raising seven children, I have learned how much children truly are capable of learning. Children understand and comprehend more than we give them credit for.

To teach the habit of obedience, start when they are young. Even older children can practice and learn to obey. 

During the preschool years, to establish the habit of obedience, you must make it a big deal. Children naturally can pick up on cues from their parents about how important something is.

I currently have a newly turned five-year-old. Last year when she was four, we were in the kitchen working together and tidying up. I asked her to hand me a cleaning rag. I could tell that she heard and understood me. Instead of getting mad or asking over and over, I stopped everything I was doing and walked over to her and nicely asked her again. I reminded her that she must obey me every time.  She could tell that it was a big deal to me… that is the key!

The habit of obedience is one that will serve a mother greatly in the daily management of her home. 

“The mother’s great stronghold is in the habit of obedience. If she begins by requiring that her children always obey her, why, they will always do so as a matter of course; but let them once get the thin end of the wedge in, let them discover that they can do otherwise than obey, and a woeful struggle begins, which commonly ends in the children doing that which is right in their own eyes.”

Charlotte Mason

Did you catch that she said, “begin by requiring that her children always obey her?”

This habit is developed in the preschool years by requiring that your children obey you. 

While the preschool years are so special and marked by so many beginnings, establishing good habits will be the foundation that will serve him or her the rest of their days. Habit training can be challenging but it is so worth it!

Jennifer Dowdy

About the author

I’m Jenny. A woman with a multigenerational vision for my family. Wife, mom of 6, a health researcher, and much more! Things I love: God, natural wellness, Charlotte Mason homeschool, home decorating, quiet times, deep relationships, and serving others.

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