Training your child’s character can be likened to tending a garden. Nurturing to life the good character qualities you want to see grow and blossom. It’s about watching over what’s sprouting up and carefully cultivating that which will one day bear fruit. It requires tilling the soil and weeding out anything that is not fructiferous and fragrant and beautiful.
Charlotte Mason considered character traits to be habits. Habits of thought and habits of deed. A mother’s role is to gently guide the child, like a guardian angel, into habits of gentleness, courtesy, candor, respect for others, and truthfulness.
The work of cultivating our children’s habits of thought is foundational.
A child’s thinking shapes his temperament, which ultimately translates into habits of behavior and the way he treats others.
As homeschool moms, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of putting our children’s academics before their hearts. But we need to remember that time invested in guiding our children’s thinking about how they treat each another is more important than time invested in academics. The acquiring of knowledge is good, but character training is paramount. Kindness and respect for others are learned early and endure for life.
So how do we practically train character? First, by imparting good ideas into our children’s thoughts. These ideas can be conveyed through carefully chosen books. Through stories, myths, legends, and fables, our children begin to build a foundation for what is good, right, and noble.
Charlotte Mason tells us,
An idea fitly put, is taken in without effort. And once in, ideas behave like living creatures. They feed, grow, and multiply.
If you convey an idea to your child, you don’t have to nurture it. Your child will naturally nurture the idea and it will grow and multiply. This goes for both good and bad ideas.
As Charlotte Mason tells us: The Bible is the chief source of good, moral ideas for our children and should be used every day. She stressed that the Holy Spirit would instruct our children as they hear or read the Word of God. Charlotte called this “the divine life of the child.” Children are persons and we should treat them as such, with the same respect we show adults because the Holy Spirit speaks to our children and through our children the same way He does to us.
Sometimes our clumsy efforts to mold our children actually end up getting in the way of the Holy Spirit. We need to be cautious about talking too much. Charlotte Mason calls this “over instructing.” With silence as our goal, we can let our children ponder the material and come up with their own questions, even as the Holy Spirit is guiding their hearts. We must trust that God is faithful and loves our children so much more than we do.
He has a plan and purpose and will speak to them in the ways they can understand.
In addition to reading, Mason recommends memorizing scripture. Choose themes, such as Psalms or Proverbs, or the prayers of Paul, or parables of Jesus. Begin slowly by memorizing small sections then add to them once the verses are committed to memory. Use pictures and other hands-on activities to help your children learn the verses. And then step back and let the Holy Spirit work the truths in their hearts!
I once heard a story of a woman who was in a terrible car accident. When she regained consciousness, the only things she remembered were Bible verses she had memorized. I wonder if, when we hide God’s word in our hearts, His truth is lodged in a special part of our brain, a place different than where the other things we’ve memorized are stored.
I believe it’s essential we begin our homeschool day with scripture first thing in the morning so the Holy Spirit can be active in our children’s hearts the rest of the day, informing their thoughts and guiding their behavior.
As homeschool moms we often put extreme pressure on ourselves. We feel overwhelmed, giving in to the feeling that we are falling behind and won’t finish the curriculum. That we are failing. I remember one time feeling like we didn’t have time for devotions. I began putting it off because we were far behind in other areas. We neglected our Bible time and life became so hard. I remember thinking, “Is this worth it?” The burden of everything was on my back. Everything was on me. Everything was falling apart. I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” I would give my boys a math sheet only to come back five minutes later and find a dinosaur covering the page. We would open our brand new curriculum and discover water stains on it at the end of the day. My kids were complaining. I was frustrated. Life and homeschooling were miserable for everyone.
Desperate, I considered quitting. And so I did. I didn’t put them in school; I just decided I was done teaching them. From this day forward, I thought, we will do devotions and nothing else. No more school work. I didn’t tell the kids. I just called them down for devotions. It was January and we still had out the basket of the photo Christmas cards we’d received. I told each of my children to pick out one card and we would all pray for the families on the cards. It was precious. It was so amazing. After spending hours praying for others, reading the Bible, singing a hymn, and praying for each other, I told my children we were done. I then begin fixing lunch. Then the strangest, most amazing thing happened. Without a word, my little brood made their way to the schoolroom, picked up their books, and began working without me. It wasn’t me who prompted, but the Holy Spirit, who we had invited into our day.
I realized something very important in that moment—that I needed to fill my children up with God first.
He would then help them with their learning. From then on, that morning Bible time became the most instrumental time of pouring into my children’s lives good ideas. Nourishment for the soul. The same Holy Spirit who speaks to us will speak to our children. If I guide them into a relationship with God and focus their hearts on Him above all else, then they will do whatever He wants and has for them to do with their lives. Oh, they’re still sinners, just as we are. But they will have a grounding of character that will never forsake them.
As mentioned above, Charlotte Mason valued moral stories in character development. Read lots of books to your children. Books and novels with noble, strong characters, and fables with great moral lessons. Books that fill their hearts and nourish their souls. Curriculum that points their hearts to God. Lessons that uplift God and validate and strengthen their faith. Provide an atmosphere in your homeschool that gives your children the freedom to think and interact with good ideas that will take root and develop fruit.
So how do we train the character of a child who is consistently causing trouble—the one who is at the center of every squabble? Charlotte Mason believed this behavior is not because of the child’s temperament, but is rather a tendency. Often the child misbehaving is being reinforced by the negative attention of being in trouble. They may not like negative attention, but it is attention after all. The child develops a habit and gets stuck in a rut of misbehavior. Charlotte Mason suggested rooting out the habit gently by keeping the child close by and reinforcing him with positive attention as you notice and praise his good behaviors. If he misbehaves, stand back and ignore the bad behavior. Only give attention to his good behavior. It usually takes one month to retrain a new habit, and Charlotte Mason found this is best way to replace bad habits with good ones.
In training character, remember you are not homeschooling Jesus; you are homeschooling human beings. Sometimes our expectations are out of line. We actually do expect our children to behave like Jesus. It’s so much more convenient if they do. It’s easier on us, so we demand this perfect behavior.
But the fact is, they are children and that’s why they need parents!
They need our guidance when they stray from the path, and we need not be surprised or angry when they sin. Early on in my homeschooling, I got into the habit of harping and yelling at the kids. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed to train my own habits! I did so rather quickly, but that’s another story.
A practical way to train our children is by simply talking to them about their misbehavior. Ask them why they think they are misbehaving. What will help them do what is right? For example, “Why do you leave the cup out?” and “What can you do to remind yourself to put the cup away?” Help them think of the reasons they are misbehaving. Enlist their help. This enables them to take responsibility for their own shaping of character. It respects them as persons, grows their maturity, and fosters self-government. Nagging, on the other hand, is never effective in the long run. It doesn’t help our children change; it encourages them to tune us out.
The child is a real person and we need to approach character training with that truth in mind.
One of my children had a habit of being untruthful and telling tall tales. I was so worried. I prayed a lot for him when he was younger. It was exciting when I was finally able to see all the prayer and habit training related to this character issue coming to fruition in his college years. It was the end of the semester and because he didn’t manage his time well, he was not able to finish a required assignment. He emailed his professor about the unfinished assignment but did not give a dishonest excuse. He told the truth. He admitted he had mismanaged his time. Though the professor couldn’t accept the assignment late, he told my son he had never gotten an email with the truth stated so boldly. Usually they were full of excuses. He said he could use a truthful student in his research program. So my son got the most amazing research job on campus, all because he chose to be truthful.
Don’t despair if you see behaviors and characteristics in your children that are worrisome. God has a plan and you can trust Him with your children. I prayed over my child and God was faithful! In the end it was his own choice to be truthful and God rewarded him for that. You are going to see that same type of good character in your children when they leave home. So don’t fret too much about their besetting sins. Perfection should not be our goal! Our goal should be to guide and lead their hearts to God so He can speak to them and make them the men and women He designed them to be. That’s truly what we want in the end!
Training your children’s character really is this easy. Impart good and wholesome ideas. Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s heart. God will often speak to their hearts about issues that you are unaware of, but the child is not. God created them and will guide and direct them. And when they leave home He will continue cultivating their character, just as he does for us.
Ultimately, training character is not our job. It’s God’s job.
As homeschool moms, we are only cooperating with Him. Let not our many words hinder the work of God. It was a habit of mine when I noticed a negative trait in my children to find find a Scripture verse that spoke to the issue. When my child was whiney, I would pray joy verses over her. When my son was lying, I would pray truth telling verses over him.
On wearisome homeschool days, it’s hard to remember to pray for our children. When I forget to pray, I see a downturn in my children’s behavior and emotions. It’s helpful to find a prayer partner who will keep you accountable in prayer. I also put prayer reminders on my phone that pop up and remind me to pray for my children.
God called you to homeschool and He wants to lead and guide you all the way through. You are not doing this alone. God is just waiting for you to seek him.
Go here to learn more about incorporating Charlotte Mason’s methodologies into your homeschool!
I would love to hear from you!
What are some ways you keep an active prayer life?
What are some wonderful books you have that teach character?