What things should we take into account for the correct education of our children?
Taken from “Revista Arbil” number 97. Translated by Catholic Q&A.
by Tomás Melendo Granados
Teaching them to keep all these principles in mind may constitute the most valuable inheritance that, in the totality of education, parents bequeath to their children.
Fathers and mothers are, by nature, their children’s first and indispensable educators. Their mission is challenging. It is full of seemingly irreconcilable contrasts: they have to know how to understand, and at the same time, know how to demand; to respect the children’s freedom, and yet guide and correct them; to help them in their tasks, but without substituting for them or avoiding the formative effort and the satisfaction that comes with carrying them out.
That’s why parents must learn to be parents themselves – and very early on. In no profession does professional training begin when the aspirant reaches positions of prominence and has high responsibility in their hands. Why should it be otherwise in the “parenting profession?” Perhaps because it is more of an art than a science? Of course, though inspiration and intuition are not enough in any art, it is also necessary to be educated and trained.
In any case, learning this “trade” does not consist of providing oneself with a set of recipes or solutions already given and immediately applicable to the problems that arise. Such recipes do not exist. There are, on the contrary, principles or fundamentals of education which illuminate the different situations: parents must know them very thoroughly, to the point of making them the thought of their thoughts and the life of their lives, to use them in their daily practices.
With this in mind, and without too much pretension, I present a memorandum, as accessible and concrete as possible, of the main criteria and suggestions regarding “the art of the arts,” as education has been called.
Three pieces of “first class” advice:
1) The first thing parents need to educate is a true and complete love for their children.
As G. Courtois writes in The Art of Educating Today’s Children, education requires, in addition to “a little science and experience, a lot of common sense and, above all, a lot of love.” In other words, it is necessary to master some pedagogical principles and to act with common sense, but without supposing that it is enough to apply an excellent theory to obtain sure results.
Why? Among other reasons, because “each child is a unique case” absolutely unrepeatable, different from all the others. No manual is capable of explaining this specific “case.” Learning to modulate the principles according to temperament, age, and the circumstances in which the children find themselves is necessary. And only love allows us to know each one of them as they are today and now and to act accordingly: even if we concede the truth of the saying that “love is blind,” it is much more profound and true to maintain that it is sharp and perceptive, clairvoyant; and that, when it comes to people, only an authentic love enables us to know them in depth.
It will be love that will teach parents to discover the most appropriate time to speak and to be silent; the time to play with their children and to be interested in their problems without subjecting them to interrogation and to respect their need to be alone; the times when it is convenient to “let go a little” and to “not to take any notice” versus the times when it is appropriate to intervene decisively and even with resolute liveliness.
And, as I said, in this difficult art, parents are irreplaceable. A married couple, very burdened by their professional work, was looking in a toy store for a gift for their child: they asked for something that would amuse him, keep him calm, and, above all, take away the feeling of being alone. A smart sales clerk explained: “I’m sorry, but we don’t sell parents.”
2) The first thing a child needs to be educated is that his parents love each other.
“We make sure he lacks nothing; we are attentive to his every whim, and yet…”. We often hear expressions like this one, uttered by so many parents who apparently pour themselves into their children – healthy and nutritious food, games, designer clothes, vacations by the sea, entertainment, etc. – but who forget the most important thing that the children need: that the parents themselves love each other and are united.
The mutual affection of parents has brought children into the world. And that same reciprocal affection must complete the task begun, helping the child to attain the fullness and happiness to which he is called. The natural complement of procreation, education, must be moved by the same causes – the love of the parents – that engendered the child.
For many centuries it has been said that, on leaving the mother’s womb, where the amniotic fluid protected and nourished it, the child urgently needs another “womb” and another “fluid,” without which it could not grow and develop, namely, those that the father and the mother create when they genuinely love each other.
For this reason, each of the spouses should enhance the image of the other in the eyes of their children and avoid anything that might diminish their affection for their spouse. From the time the children are very young, in addition, to prudently but clearly manifesting the affection that unites them, the parents must pay attention not to reproach each other in front of them, not to allow one to do what the other forbids, to avoid specific aberrant recommendations to the child: “don’t tell this to daddy (or mommy),” etc.
3) Teaching to love
As we have just seen, the radical principle of education is that parents love each other and, as a result of this love, truly love their children; the aim of this education is that children, in turn, learn to like and love.
Curiously and in summary, to educate is to love, and to love is to teach to love.
As Rafael Tomás Caldera explains, “The true greatness of man, his perfection, therefore, his mission or task, is love. Everything else – professional ability, prestige, wealth, a more or less long life, intellectual development – must converge in love or it is ultimately meaningless”… and even if they are not directed towards love, they could be detrimental.
The entire educational task of parents must therefore be directed, in the last instance, to increase the capacity of each child to love and to avoid anything that makes them more selfish, more closed and self-centered, less capable of discovering, desiring, pursuing, and realizing the good of others.
This is the only way to contribute effectively to make them happy, since happiness – as shown by the most classical philosophers and the most accurate contemporary psychiatrists – is nothing more than the unintended effect of enlarging one’s own person, of progressively improving: and this can only be achieved by loving more and better, by expanding the boundaries of one’s own heart.
Seven more recommendations:
4) The best educator is by example.
Children tend to imitate the attitudes of adults, especially those they like or admire. They always keep sight of their parents; they watch them constantly, especially in the early years. They also see when they are not looking, and listen even when they are busy playing. They have a kind of radar that intercepts all the actions and words of their environment.
That is why parents educate or dis-educate, first and foremost, by their example.
Furthermore, teaching by example has an irreplaceable pedagogical, confirming, and encouraging value. There is no better way to teach a child to dive into the water than to do it with or before him. Words fly, but the example remains, illuminates behaviors… and attracts.
At the opposite extreme, the incongruence between what is advised and what is lived is the greatest evil that a parent can inflict on his children: especially at certain ages, when the sense of “justice” in children is rigidly established, overdeveloped… and ready to judge others too harshly.
5) Encourage and reward.
The child is very receptive. If he is often told that he is rude, selfish, and good for nothing, he will believe that he is really rude, selfish, and incapable of doing anything… “if only to avoid disappointing his parents.” He should have a little too much self-confidence than to have too little. And if we see him relapsing into some defect, a word of encouragement will be more effective than throwing it in his face and humiliating him. To show the child that we have confidence in his possibilities is a great incentive for him; in fact, the little one – as, with nuances, any human being – is impelled to put into practice the positive or negative opinion that we have of him and not to disappoint our expectations in this respect.
When he makes a correct observation, even the opposite of the one we have just commented on or suggested, we should not be afraid to agree with him. We do not lose authority; on the contrary, we gain it since we do not make it reside on our point of view but on the same objective truth of what is proposed.
When encouraging and praising, it is preferable to be more attentive to the effort made than to the result obtained. In principle, the child should not be rewarded for having fulfilled a duty or for succeeding in something if achieving it has not involved a very special effort. A gift for good grades is distorting. Good grades, together with the demonstration of our joy at that result, should already be a reward that gives sufficient satisfaction to the child.
Nor is it reasonable to multiply gratifications disproportionately. On the one hand, it teaches him to act not for what is good but for the reward he receives (or, in other words, to think more of himself than others). And also, when these rewards are lacking, the child will feel disappointed: repeatedly rewarding what he does not deserve is equivalent to transforming all situations in which this compensation is absent into a punishment.
It is important not to forget a fundamental law: to educate someone is not to make him always happy and satisfied because all his whims or desires are fulfilled, but to help him to bring out of himself, with the necessary effort on our part and his, all the marvel that he contains within himself and that will raise him to the fullness of his personal condition… making him, as a consequence, very happy.
6) Exercise authority without forcing it or spoiling it.
For the same reason, in order to educate, affection, good example, and encouragement are not enough; it is also necessary to exercise authority, always explaining, as far as possible, the reasons that lead us to advise, impose, reprove, or prohibit a particular conduct.
Education without authority, once so much proclaimed, is today presented as a brief, failed, and obsolete fashion, contradicted by those who have suffered it. The child needs authority and seeks it. He becomes insecure or nervous if he does not find a signpost and a demarcation around him. Even when they play among themselves, children always invent rules that must not be transgressed. Moreover, we all know how unpleasant, annoying, and tyrannical other people’s children are when they are spoiled, accustomed to always drawing attention to themselves, and not obeying when they don’t feel like it.
But making a sound judgment regarding one’s own is more difficult. One does not know whether to impose oneself or to agree to let things go so as not to run the risk of making a scene in public…, or end the matter with an explosion of anger and a scolding (which then leaves the parents more uncomfortable than the child).
Behind this insecurity is always a strange mixture of fears and precautions. The horror of losing the child’s affection, the fear that their physical safety might be at risk, the fear that they might make us look bad or cause us material damage.
In short, although we neither realize it nor wish it, we love ourselves more than the boy or girl; we put our good before theirs. Hence, if above so many fears prevailed, the sincere and compelling desire to help the child to recognize his own selfish impulses, greed, laziness, envy, cruelty, etc., there would be no sense of guilt when corrected by the parent.
Based on what has been said so far, and even if it is not fashionable, it is necessary to reiterate clearly and explicitly the impossibility of educating without exercising authority (which is not authoritarianism) and to demand obedience from the very moment children begin to understand what is being asked of them. Therefore, it is important that parents, always explaining the reasons for their decisions, indicate to children what they should do or avoid, not letting their orders fall into oblivion for convenience nor allowing children to oppose them openly.
As a consequence, an essential criterion in home education is that there should be very few and fundamental (yet never arbitrary) rules to ensure that they are always complied with… and to leave enormous freedom in everything open to opinion, even when the children’s preferences do not coincide with ours: they have every “right” to become what they are called to become… and we have no right to turn them into a replica of our own self!
Sometimes, however, something is forbidden without knowing why, what is wrong with it, simply out of impulse, out of the desire to be calm, or because one feels nervous and everything bothers him. Thus one compromises one’s own authority without it being necessary, abusing it… and the children are disconcerted, who do not know why today it is forbidden what yesterday was not.
Every healthy child needs movement, imaginative playtime, and freedom. Intervening continuously and unreasonably ends up making authority something insufferable. Like the mother who is said to have told her nanny: “Go to the children’s room and see what they are doing… and forbid them to do it.”
On the other hand, the child’s conviction that they will never make the parents desist from the orders given is extraordinarily effective. It helps enormously in calming tantrums or preventing them from occurring. (The opposite of this, as I have already hinted, is to repeat the same order twenty times – brush your teeth, take a shower, go to bed now… – without demanding that it be carried out immediately: it causes enormous psychic wear and tear, perhaps especially for mothers, who usually spend most of the day struggling with the children, while at the same time diminishing or eliminating their own authority).
It is also worth paying attention to how an instruction is given. If you give orders in a dry manner or raise your voice for no reason, you always convey a sense of nervousness and lack of confidence. A threatening tone rightly arouses adverse reactions and opposition. Let us give orders or, better, let us ask, please, with a calm attitude and trusting that we will be obeyed. Let us reserve strict commands for very important things. For other requests, it is preferable to use a softer form: “Would you be so kind as to…”, “Could you please…”, “Is there anyone who knows how to do this?” This will encourage children to make free and responsible choices and will give them the opportunity to act autonomously and inventively, to feel useful… and to experience the satisfaction of keeping their parents happy.
Sometimes it is necessary to ask the child to make a greater effort than usual; it is then necessary to create a favorable atmosphere. If, for example, you know that your spouse is exhausted or has an insufferable headache, you will talk to the child alone and say: “Mom (or dad) has a severe headache, so this afternoon, I ask you to make a special effort to make as little noise as possible….” It may be appropriate to give him an occupation and an affectionate look or a caress, from time to time, to reward his efforts… without forgetting that in this, as in the other cases, it is necessary to manage to make the child fulfill his obligation.
Firmness, therefore, to demand the appropriate conduct, but extreme gentleness in the way of suggesting or demanding it.
7) To know how to scold and punish.
Encouragement and rewards are not normally sufficient for a healthy education. A reproach or a punishment, given in a timely and proportionate manner and without unjustified regrets, will contribute to form the moral criterion of the child.
The dosage of reprimands and punishments should be sensible and intelligent. The “laissez-faire” policy is typical of parents who are either weak or complicit. Also, in education, the “wide sleeve” is often dictated by the fear of not being obeyed or by the convenience (“do what you want, as long as you leave me alone”) … which are nothing but other modes of self-love: to prefer one’s own good (not to make an effort, not to suffer when demanding the correct conduct) to that of the children.
But it would be pedantic, or even neurotic, to have continuous and suffocating control of the children, who are scolded and punished for the slightest deviation from the overbearing standards set by their parents.
For a reprimand to be educational, it must be clear, succinct, and not humiliating. It is, therefore, necessary to learn to scold correctly, explicitly, and briefly and then change the subject of the conversation. In fact, one should not demand that the child immediately recognize their own wrongdoing and pronounce a mea culpa, especially if other people are present (should we, the adults, do it?). It is also advisable to choose the right place and the right time to reprimand them; sometimes, it will be necessary to wait until the anger has passed to be able to speak with true serenity and with greater effectiveness.
On the other hand, before deciding to give a punishment, it is advisable to be sure that the child is aware of the prohibition or command. Naturally, it is necessary to avoid not only that the discipline be an outlet for one’s own anger or bad temper but even that the punishment has that appearance. In the case of school failures, it is important to know whether they are due to irresponsibility or limitations that are difficult to overcome on the part of the boy or girl.
When reprimanding, avoiding comparisons is necessary: “Look how your sister obeys and studies…”. Confrontations only engender jealousy and antipathy.
Having to punish can and should upset us, but sometimes it is the best witness of love that can be offered to a child: love “suffers all things,” as St. Paul reminds us, even the pain of loved ones, whenever such suffering is necessary. There is no fear, therefore, that a just and well-given correction will diminish the child’s love for you. Sometimes you hear the punished child reply: “I don’t mind it!” You can then say to him, with all the serenity you are capable of: “It is not my purpose to annoy you nor to make you suffer.”
8) Forming the conscience.
In our society, children are bombarded by slogans and phrases that transmit “ideals” not always in accordance with an adequate vision of the human being and, therefore, incapable of making them happy. The solution is not a police regime of controls and punishments. It is necessary that the children internalize and make their own the correct criteria, that they form their conscience, learning to distinguish clearly the good from the bad.
It is not enough to tell them: “This is not right” or, even less, “I don’t like this.” There is a risk of transforming morality into a set of arbitrary prohibitions devoid of foundation. On the contrary, it is very important to “educate positively,” as it is often said. This, in my opinion, is equivalent to showing the beauty and humanity of virtue, joyful and serene, unraveled and uninhibited. To achieve this, one must strive to live one’s life, with all its setbacks, as a joyous adventure worth composing every day. In such circumstances, discovering the beauty and wonder of doing good, the child will be attracted and stimulated to do right.
In addition, it is crucial to make them understand how decisive the intention is in determining the morality of an act and to help the children to ask themselves the reason for a particular behavior. According to their answers, they will be made to see the possible injustice, envy, pride, etc., that has motivated them. The so-called guilt complex, i.e., the dark and distressing feeling of having made a mistake, accompanied by fear or shame, arises precisely from the lack of a courageous and serene examination of the moral quality of our actions. On the contrary, as even the most experienced psychiatrists show, a sense of sin is necessary and healthy. The clear perception of one’s own concessions and faults, with which we have turned our backs on God, provokes a remorse that activates and multiplies the strength to seek anew the love that forgives.
To form the conscience, it can also be helpful to discuss with the child the goodness or badness of situations and facts of which we are aware, as well as to suggest to him the practice of the personal examination of conscience at the end of the day, perhaps helping him in the first steps to ask himself the right questions. As he grows up, let him make his own decisions with greater freedom and responsibility, telling him at most: “If I were you, I would do it this way or that way” and, if necessary, explain briefly why.
9) Do not spoil children.
A child is spoiled by disproportionate or too frequent praise, indulgence, and condescension regarding his whims. They are also spoiled by often making them the center of everyone’s interest and letting them determine family decisions. A child surrounded by excessive attention and inopportune concessions, once outside the family environment, will become, if he has a weak temperament, a shy person and incapable of managing independently. If, on the contrary, he has a strong temperament, he will become an egoist, capable of using others or taking them away from him.
For this reason, in the face of children’s whims, we should not give in: we should simply wait for the tantrum to pass without being nervous, maintaining a serene attitude, almost of inattention, and, at the same time, firm. And this, even – or above all – when they “embarrass us” in front of other people: their good (that of their children!) must always come before our own.
10) Educate freedom.
In this area, the educator’s task is twofold: to make the student aware of the value of his own freedom and to teach him to exercise it correctly.
But it is not easy to understand in depth what freedom is and its close relationship with the good and with love. Who is authentically free? He who, once he knows it, does good because he wants to do it, for love of what is good. On the contrary, the one who acts incorrectly “loses” his freedom. A man can take his own life because he is “free,” but no one would say that suicide improves him as a person or increases his freedom.
Therefore, educating in freedom means helping distinguish what is good (for others and, as a consequence, for one’s own happiness), and encouraging the consequent choices to be made, always out of love.
Prudently granting children increasing freedom helps to make them responsible. A long experience as an educator allowed St. Josemaría Escrivá to say: “It is better for parents to let themselves ‘be fooled’ once in a while, because the trust that they have shown will make the children themselves feel ashamed of having abused it — they will correct themselves. On the other hand, if they have no freedom, if they see that no one trusts them, they will always be inclined to deceive their parents [Conversations, 100].”
In short, just as I said before that the objective of all education is to teach how to love, it can also be said – because it is essentially the same thing – that it is equivalent to making those in our care progressively freer and more independent: that they know how to fend for themselves, to be masters of their own decisions, with complete freedom and total responsibility.
And the best advice:
11) To have recourse to God’s help.
The suggestions offered so far would be incomplete if we did not mention this “last” and most fundamental precept, which must accompany each and every one of the preceding ones.
To educate comes from e-ducere, to educe, to bring forth. The principal and irreplaceable agent is always the child himself. In an even more profound way, God, in the natural sphere or by means of his grace, intervenes in the most intimate part of the person of our children, making their perfection possible.
No child is the “property” of the parents; it belongs to itself and, ultimately, to God. Therefore, as I pointed out, we have no right to make them in “our image and likeness.” Our task consists in “disappearing” for the benefit of our loved ones, placing ourselves entirely at their service so that they may attain the fullness that corresponds to each one of them: their own, unique, and unrepeatable.
Consequently, the father or mother, other relatives, teachers, and professors… can be considered God’s collaborators in the human and spiritual growth of the child. Still, the child is the real protagonist of this improvement.
Parents, in particular, by virtue of the sacrament of marriage, are offered a specific grace to assume such an important task. For all these reasons, it is very convenient that above all (and not only in moments of particular difficulty), they invoke the help and counsel of God… and that they know how to abandon themselves to Him when it seems that their efforts do not give the desired results or that the child – in adolescence, for example – takes paths that make us suffer.
Moreover, we should not forget the tremendous gratuitous service of the Guardian Angel, to whom God himself has entrusted the care of our children. And we should also remember that Our Lady continues from heaven to unfold her maternal action of guidance and intercession.
Original Post: Here
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