Acquiring Habits in the Child

Acquiring Habits in the Child

The faster the child acquires various motor habits with which it finds its way in the environment, the more easier and more complete it is for the child to adapt to the same. We call habits various automated actions that are gradually formed in childhood in order to last more or less throughout life. The first habits appear on their own, based on the development of the child’s organism and without a greater share of the learning process. This applies, for example, to crawling, walking, thumb movements independently from the other fingers on the hand. But the more complex the habits that a child needs, the more he or she has to apply learning, practice, and imitate others to acquire them. Among the habits that are a result from learning than the spontaneous growth of the child include, for example, speaking, reading, writing, etc. The older the child, the less important is the growth factor in acquiring habits, and the role of exercise becomes greater.

It should not be forgotten that the more complete the maturity of the child, the more complete the effect of the exercise. An older child benefits more from equal learning than a young child because it has a more mature nervous system and apparatus for movement. In addition, it has more experience to which it can build new skills. But this rule only applies to small children. When their body has reached a sufficient degree of maturity to acquire a habit, age differences no longer significantly affect the learning effect. Its effect is then the same in younger and older children. Here, the effect of learning is only so different that a child with more experience can make better use of newly acquired knowledge than a child who has previously acquired a much more scarce life experience (McGinnis E.: The acquisition and interference of motor habits in young children).

Until it has mastered the technique of speech, the child finds it difficult to learn a foreign language with its mother tongue. But when its speech matures, the child will learn a foreign language at the same pace no matter how old it is. The average child can learn to read before going to school, but it will be harder for it is younger. When the child reaches the age of 6, it is – provided it is of normal intelligence – fully capable of mastering the reading technique without major difficulties. From that age onwards, it will take an equal amount of time to achieve the same level in reading skills, regardless of whether it is a few years younger or older.

There is no gender difference in the ability to acquire motor habits. Boys and girls acquire various skills with equal readiness. Interestingly, in the first years of life, the degree of intellectual maturity, of course within the limits of average intelligence, does not significantly affect the acquisition of habits. Mentally retarded children always find it harder to acquire skills the weaker their intellectual abilities. Above-average intelligence does not help develop habits. It is used only in later childhood, especially in puberty. Then the young child acquires various skills faster and more completely the more intelligent it is (McGinnis E.: The acquisition and interference of motor habits in young children).

The acquisition of skills is greatly influenced by stimulation. Recognition and reward proved to be the best incentive to exercise. Complaints and penalties have a much weaker effect. Stimulation during the exercise has a bigger success the more intelligent the child is (Abel L. B.: The effects of shift in motivation upon the learning of a sensorimotor task). And the method of teaching a skill affects how successful the learning will be. If the teacher allows some independence in choosing the most expedient movements to solve a task, the child will acquire the appropriate skill faster and more fully than if each movement is determined in advance. But before the child starts exercising, it should be given clear instructions on how to carry it out. During exercise, the intelligent child will notice which movements are useful to it and which are not: then it will reject the wrong ones, and it will keep the correct ones and continue practicing. The less intelligent the child is, the less it uses the experience, so it makes a series of irregular and superfluous movements for a long time, or it never gets rid of them completely (Cox J. W.: Some experiments on formal training in the acquisition of skill).

When it adopts a motor habit, it is easier for a child to acquire a new, similar habit than when it has not practiced any related activity before practicing the other. A child who has previously learned to play the piano will more easily master the technique of playing the accordion than that child who has never learned anything like it. Sometimes practicing one limb makes it easier to acquire the same skill with the other limb. Having lost, for example, the right hand, a person with the left hand will learn more easily those movements which he skillfully performed with the right hand than those which he has never trained. This phenomenon is called “learning transfer”. The transfer is more pronounced the older the child is, and it is more significant in adults than in children.