Have you ever had the realization, like I have, that you’ve allowed a personal habit to get out of hand? That “it’s-only-November-and-I-already-need-to-write-a-New-Year’s-resolution-to-break-this-bad-habit” feeling is probably one that is common to the modern human experience. The self-help industry is flourishing largely because we’ve all realized that it is incredibly difficult to turn over a new leaf regarding our behavior. How often have our good intentions—to eat healthy, or stop using bad language in front of our children, or to start exercising every day—lasted for a short time, but eventually failed miserably?
Or even worse than a bad habit in ourselves, what happens when we realize that we’ve allowed a bad habit to form in our child: a behavior that probably would have been easy to train a long time ago, but now seems to be set in stone? This, too is, unfortunately, a common experience for parents. Charlotte Mason shows us a way to help our children seemingly mired in terrible habits in her chapter, “Inconstant Kitty,” from her book, Formation of Character
In the story, a struggling mom writes to her Aunt Charlotte about a perplexing parenting problem: her daughter, Katherine, can’t seem to pay attention to anything for an extended time. She writes that these “flitting butterfly ways” used to be endearing when she was a toddler, but now that she is seven, they are incredibly frustrating and concerning for her parents. Kitty (Katherine) can’t seem to play with a toy for five minutes before she’s on to the next thing, and has left the toys in a mess, forgotten on the floor. She interrupts her mother during a dynamic conversation about English history with Kitty’s siblings, demanding to know immediately how they’ll pack for the beach for their upcoming summer vacation. This habit even starts to affect Kitty’s learning, as she can’t seem to focus on spelling long enough to learn how to read or write. Kitty’s struggle with attention even carries over to her loves, and she is fickle about to whom and to what she gives the attention of her heart. Many a friend and family member feel the fullness of Kitty’s affection for a time, but then are left out in the cold when Kitty’s heart and mind quickly move on to the next relationship. Kitty’s mom is at her wit’s end, and she looks to Aunt Charlotte for guidance.
If you’d like to see how Aunt Charlotte, Kitty, her mother, and father all team together to help Kitty grow to be steadfast in her attention—and in her love for God and for others—you’ll have to read the book. Here are some key parenting ideas from the chapter:

  • Sometimes academic weaknesses can tip adults off to broader weaknesses in children’s habits (like their ability to pay attention). This means we can get at the root of an opportunity for a child to grow in character!
  • Wise parents own their well-intentioned errors in parenting their children. We’re all imperfect, and acknowledging weakness is the first step to growth!
  • Charlotte Mason said, “The chief business of parents is to train character in their children.”
  • Habits indulged in childhood, and allowed to go unaddressed by parents, will have a great effect on who that child becomes as an adult.
  • Parents assume attention is a natural power/ability, but, while we all have the potential to focus and attend, it is not natural, and needs to be trained.
  • If a child doesn’t learn to embrace duty as a child, she will struggle to do her duty in all things for the rest of her life.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this month of helping our children grow in attention and duty goes well!