Parenting, The Brain, and Charlotte Mason


Do you feel you are always nagging your children? Charlotte Mason's ideas about building character in our children through habit are fresh approaches for parents.  Interestingly enough, some of her suggestions are validated by modern brain research.  

Mason's work in education was greatly inspired by a book published at the end of the 19th century - Principles of Mental Physiology by William Benjamin Carpenter  This volume presented research on how the material structure of the brain is modified by the initiation of habits.  Neuroscientists now understand that thoughts and actions are transmitted electronically from one neuron to another through axons.  As the same neural pathway is traveled, a wall around the axon pathway, called the myelin sheath, becomes stronger and stronger.  In his book, The Mind and the Brain, Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, explores the power of mind over the brain.  

How does all of this apply to our work with children?  When we see weaknesses in our children's character, there are often two lines of treatment we take as parents - punishment or permissiveness.  Mason says that neither of these approaches cures a child of moral evil.  New pathways of action, taking the form of physical changes in the child's brain tissue, propel the child toward new character. Of course, all of Mason's comments about the science of character formation assume the divine intervention of an infinite and all-powerful Creator.  

Her methods for accomplishing this growth of character is practical-it requires time (as you would give to a sick child) and strategy.  The plan is to replace the bad habit with the opposite good one. This transformation is made by coming alongside your child as an advocate and support, inspiring him with an idea for change, and seeing that he follows through, without nagging. 

The reason nagging doesn't work is because it trains the wrong brain pathway-it trains the "wait until mom says it to do it" pathway, thus the result - more nagging. The parent should instead create the opportunity for the child to initiate the thinking. We can use pointed silence and quiet expectation to create an atmosphere where our children do the thinking-new neuron pathways fire, and the formation of a new habit begins.

— Ginnie Wilcox, Head of School

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