Child Guidance


Chapter 37—The Power of Habit

How Habits Are Established—Any one act, either good or evil, does not form the character; but thoughts and feelings indulged prepare the way for acts and deeds of the same kind.1 CG 199.1

It is ... by a repetition of acts that habits are established and character confirmed.2 CG 199.2

The Time to Establish Good Habits—The character is formed, to a great extent, in early years. The habits then established have more influence than any natural endowment, in making men either giants or dwarfs in intellect; for the very best talents may, through wrong habits, become warped and enfeebled. The earlier in life one contracts hurtful habits, the more firmly will they hold their victim in slavery, and the more certainly will they lower his standard of spirituality. On the other hand, if correct and virtuous habits are formed in youth, they will generally mark the course of the possessor through life. In most cases, it will be found that those who in later life reverence God and honor the right learned that lesson before there was time for the world to stamp its images of sin upon the soul. Those of mature age are generally as insensible to new impressions as is the hardened rock, but youth is impressible.3 CG 199.3

Habits May Be Modified, but Seldom Changed—What the child sees and hears is drawing deep lines upon the tender mind, which no after circumstances in life can entirely efface. The intellect is now taking shape, and the affections receiving direction and strength. Repeated acts in a given course become habits. These may be modified by severe training, in afterlife, but are seldom changed.4 CG 199.4

Once formed, habits become more and more firmly impressed upon the character. The intellect is continually receiving its mold from opportunities and advantages, ill or well improved. Day by day we form characters which place the students as well-disciplined soldiers under the banner of Prince Emmanuel, or rebels under the banner of the prince of darkness. Which shall it be?5 CG 200.1

Persevering Effort Is Necessary—What we venture to do once, we are more apt to do again. Habits of sobriety, of self-control, of economy, of close application, of sound, sensible conversation, of patience and true courtesy, are not gained without diligent, close watching over self. It is much easier to become demoralized and depraved than to conquer defects, keeping self in control and cherishing true virtues. Persevering efforts will be required if the Christian graces are ever perfected in our lives.6 CG 200.2

Corrupt Children Endanger Others—God-fearing parents will deliberate and plan as to how to train their children to right habits. They will choose companions for their children, rather than leave them in their inexperience to choose for themselves.7 CG 200.3

If, in their early childhood, children are not perseveringly and patiently trained in the right way, they will form wrong habits. These habits will develop in their future life and will corrupt others. Those whose minds have received a low cast, who have been cheapened by wrong home influences, by deceptive practices, carry their wrong habits with them through life. If they make a profession of religion, these habits will be revealed in their religious life.8 CG 200.4

King Saul, a Sad Example—The history of Israel's first king presents a sad example of the power of early wrong habits. In his youth Saul did not love and fear God; and that impetuous spirit, not early trained to submission, was ever ready to rebel against divine authority. Those who in their youth cherish a sacred regard for the will of God, and who faithfully perform the duties of their position, will be prepared for higher service in afterlife. But men cannot for years pervert the powers that God has given them, and then, when they choose to change, find these powers fresh and free for an entirely opposite course.9 CG 201.1

A child may receive sound religious instruction; but if parents, teachers, or guardians permit his character to be biased by a wrong habit, that habit, if not overcome, will become a predominant power, and the child is lost.10 CG 201.2

Small Actions Are Important—Every course of action has a twofold character and importance. It is virtuous or vicious, right or wrong, according to the motive which prompts it. A wrong action, by frequent repetition, leaves a permanent impression upon the mind of the actor, and also on the minds of those who are connected with him in any relation, either spiritual or temporal. The parents or teachers who give no attention to the small actions that are not right establish those habits in the youth.11 CG 201.3

Parents should deal faithfully with the souls committed to their trust. They should not encourage in their children pride, extravagance, or love of show. They should not teach them, or suffer them to learn, little pranks which appear cunning in small children, but which they will have to unlearn, and for which they must be corrected when they are older.12 CG 201.4

Little pranks and errors may seem to be amusing when the child is a baby, and they may be permitted and encouraged; but as the child grows older, they become disgusting and offensive.13 CG 202.1

Bad Habits Are More Easily Formed Than Good—All the learning they may acquire will never undo the evil resulting from lax discipline in childhood. One neglect, often repeated, forms habit. One wrong act prepares the way for another. Bad habits are more easily formed than good ones and are given up with more difficulty.14 CG 202.2

Young children, if left to themselves, learn the bad more readily than the good. Bad habits agree best with the natural heart, and things which they see and hear in infancy and childhood are deeply imprinted upon their minds.15 CG 202.3

Early Habits Decide Future Victory or Defeat—We shall be individually, for time and eternity, what our habits make us. The lives of those who form right habits, and are faithful in the performance of every duty, will be as shining lights, shedding bright beams upon the pathway of others; but if habits of unfaithfulness are indulged, if lax, indolent, neglectful habits are allowed to strengthen, a cloud darker than midnight will settle on the prospects in this life, and forever debar the individual from the future life.16 CG 202.4

In childhood and youth the character is most impressible. The power of self-control should then be acquired. By the fireside and at the family board, influences are exerted whose results are as enduring as eternity. More than any natural endowment, the habits established in early years decide whether a man will be victorious or vanquished in the battle of life.17 CG 202.5