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Habits of the Heart in the Home


Written by DeeDee Feeney | 4.10.20

At Coram Deo Academy, we help our students practice habits that will benefit them for life, not just for school. Rather than using behavior modification, we focus on character by helping our students practice Attention, Obedience, Respect, and Responsibility. Over the next few weeks, I will share with you ways you can continue to use these habits in your home.

Read the Introduction to this series, or other articles: ObedienceRespect, and Responsibility.

Attention: “Listening with eyes, ears, and heart” & “fixing mind and body on the matter at hand.”

Attention is the first habit I will focus on this week, as it is the foundational habit. Jesus spoke to his disciples about attention when he said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). The evidence that we are practicing attention is our actions afterward. If we act on what we are told or respond to what we have read or heard, then there is evidence that we have been practicing attention. All other habits need the habit of attention to be formed first.

In a world that is full of distractions, attention is not an easy habit to form. Charlotte Mason says, “Attention is hardly even an operation of the mind, but is simply the act by which the whole mental force is applied to the subject in hand.” At Coram Deo, we say attention is “listening with eyes, ears, and heart.” Our eyes need to be on the speaker. We need to listen to what is being said. We need to process what is being said.

If we make attention a habit, it will eventually come naturally and we will begin paying attention without effort at all.

In Kindergarten, I will give instructions once and then ask a number of my students to repeat the instructions. This way, I can track if they are practicing attention. Some of my students need extra help in this area. But even those of us with ADD can learn to focus on the matter at hand with continual practice. Like any act of will, we can make ourselves do something. But, if we make attention a habit, it will eventually come naturally and we will begin paying attention without effort at all.

I also tell my students that attention is “fixing our mind and body on the matter at hand.” In other words, they are focusing on the activity at the time. They are to work on what is in front of them, play with what they started, finish the game they are playing, finish the book they are reading, finish the picture they began, or finish the conversation they are having. Finishing an activity to the end is all part of attention.

Our children will imitate us. Let us, then, imitate God

Now let’s get practical with some tips on how to help form this habit in your children at home. First, let them know you will be helping them with the habit of attention. Then, consider implementing the following:

♥︎ Give instructions one time only.

This is going to take some habit-training for parents first. If you routinely repeat your instructions, it will take some time for you to give instructions only once.

First, make sure you have your child’s attention before giving the instructions. Say their name and have them respond by saying “yes?” Then you can proceed with your instruction.

For younger children, make sure you do not give multiple-step instructions. Rather, give just one step at a time. My family made this into a game when our children were young, a cross between Mother-May-I and Simon Says. We would say their name, they would respond with “yes, Mama/Daddy” and then we would give the instruction. This is also a great way to train in first time obedience.

♥︎ Limit screen time.

The blinking screens, crazy commercials, constant action zipping all over the screens – these promote the mind to disconnect from one thing and move on the other. Video games, too, cause distraction. Although they can have your child’s undivided attention, that does not translate to other areas of their life. If anything, a child who plays hours of video games is less attentive and more distracted in other areas.

A child who spends lots of time behind a screen not only loses attentiveness in other areas, but does not have the space to form a creative imagination. Limit screen time, especially in the formative years.

♥︎ Read to your children.

In the Feeney house, 7:00 PM was storytime. Everyone gathered in the living room and my husband read aloud. This helped my children learn to pay attention even without pictures. They were using their imaginations to form the characters in their minds.

Read-Aloud Revival is one of my favorite podcasts and is very helpful in the choosing of books.

♥︎ Play lots of board games.

Every Tuesday evening was “Game Night” in the Feeney house. I did not realize until studying more about the habit of attention how important playing games is to this habit.

By doing this regularly in your child’s formative years, you are not only helping them with their habit of attention, but you are helping them cultivate a love. This will cultivate a love of community, games, competition, and challenge.

♥︎ Ask good questions.

Ask questions after reading or in the middle of reading. This helps your child to stay focused if they know a question is going to be asked.

♥︎ Let them get bored.

When children get bored, they become creative. You are not your children’s activity directors. They will find something to do. Let natural creativity come alive.

♥︎ Train a talkative child to be quiet.

A friend of mine shared how she is helping her very talkative daughter to stop and think about what she is trying to communicate. She wants to share not every detail of her stor, but just that which will get the idea across.

This is a social skill that we as parents can help our children form. Of course, this is more for older children, but we can help our younger children to learn that silence is okay, as well.

Our verbose daughter would have dominated our conversations at the table if we did not tell her that someone else needed a turn to talk. This is a way we can help our children think of others first.

♥︎ Keep a nature notebook.

I did not do this with my children because I did not know about such a thing when my children were young. But having your child keep a drawing journal of things they find in nature is a great way to cultivate attending with the eye.

♥︎ Get rid of excess toys.

Too many toys is the opposite of cultivating attention. When I spent some time in Haiti at an orphanage, I was amazed at what the children found to play with, having no toys. A rope and a stick can become so many things in a child’s imagination.

♥︎ Know your child.

God has created each of us differently. Some children will have longer attention spans than others. They will grow with age. Know how to nurture your child in this area.

♥︎ Pay attention to your child.

Make sure when your child is speaking to you, you are giving them your full attention. Look them in the eyes as you desire them to look you in the eyes. Put your phone down when your child is speaking to you.

Our children will imitate us. Let us, then, imitate God, as Ephesians 5:1 states: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

This is just a small list to get you started. I am the first to admit that I cannot do this alone. Thankfully, as a Christian, I can rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to work through me. If I lack wisdom, and I do, I can ask God and he will provide (James 1:5). Here’s to raising the next generation in a way that is glorifying to God.

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