by Fr. Raoul Plus SJ.
Someone else even more caustic drew up an infallible recipe for rearing children badly. All he had to do to determine the ingredients was to watch the behaviour of certain parents. Could we not put a few names to some of the points ourselves? All we need do is watch; examples unfortunately are legion: here is the infallible recipe:
Some parents let their children do anything and everything. Others intervene but in what a clumsy fashion:
- Perhaps they are full of threats:
"If you do that, this will happen." The child does the wrong and "this" does not happen; the threatened punishment is left hanging in the air. The child, knowing what to expect, is no longer impressed. Never make a threat you do not intend to carry out when the infraction has been committed!
- Then again they may take to bargaining: "If you do that, I'll give you this present." Or they may stoop to argument to win compliance:
"Louis, take your coat."
"But Mom, it's not worth it."
"Yes it is. Take it. The weather looks bad. I looked at the barometer and it's low."
"But Mom, I tell you it won't rain...."
"On Thursday you didn't have your coat and you were soaked to the skin."
"Yes, but on Sunday you made me wear it and it didn't rain.... And so It goes on and on....
Then parents sometimes let coaxing lead them into multiple concessions: a child may be convalescing and wants something to eat which would not be good for him. "No, youmay nothave it." "Oh yes, Mom, give it to me."
"You know very well the doctor said you shouldn't have it." "Just this once. I won't ask again."
"Well.... just this once because you want it and because you're sick, but it'll be your own fault if you get worse."
Who is to be pitied in all these instances? The child whose every whim is satisfied? Or the parents whose inexperience or weakness lead the child to the greatest dangers? Lack of character in children is often the outgrowth of lack of character in the parents. One can give only what one has.
Never make a promise you don't intend to keep. It brings discredit on you and teaches your child to lie.
Never shout. To rear a child you must control him. Now, we are controlled only by qualities we do not have ourselves, a talent beyond our reach. If there is one quality a child does not possess, it is calm, which is the direct opposite of the extreme variability of his nature, his impulsive impressionability. Calmness controls him, not shouting.
Never deceive. "Give me your whistle; you'll see what nice music I can make." The unsuspecting child gives you his whistle and you put it in your pocket: "Now with the whistle there you can't annoy us any more."
Or if you want the child to take some unpleasant medicine, you may say "Oh but this is good! Drink it, you'll see." The child sips it and pushes away the deceiving cup. You have failed him with your words. A few scenes of this kind and the child will lose all confidence in those who speak to him. If we want to be believed, we must not abuse belief.
Never do yourself what the child with a little time and ingenuity can do on his own otherwise he will never learn to take the initiative. On the contrary, confront him as soon as possible and as often as possible with tasks that are beyond him but which are capable of challenging him a bit so that he learns to gauge his strength, to remain humble because of non- success and eager for struggle because he wants to conquer the obstacle.
Never tolerate backchat to an order, or grumbling, or any argument about it. Never take back a prohibition especially if the child tries to get it lifted by tears and coy manoeuvring.
Never present a task to the child as being beyond his capabilities: "Can you do that? Don't you think you would be afraid to do that?" - so that he gets the idea of a possible sidetracking of the issue of a sliding out of it altogether. No, tell him squarely what to do as if it were just an ordinary, simple matter: "Do this. Go there please." In this way the child will not question his ability to do what is asked of him. If he says he can't do it or shows that he can't do it, there will be time enough to chide him for his cowardice or lack of nerve.
Never seem to attach importance to little scratches, bumps, and bruises he gets (naturally proper attention should be paid to read needs). The child often cries when he hurts himself just to get attention; being pitied makes him a more interesting individual. If you do not appear excited, he will understand that it is useless to make a tragedy of the affair. Care for the hurts that need care, and far from magnifying the case, explain that it isn't anything much:
"You'll have many others! Try to have more nerve about it!" The child grows calm.
Never inflict a humiliating punishment in the presence of others, except in the rare case that might need it to punish a deep-rooted pride. Aside from such a case, however, you would be degrading a child beyond reason: "Look how ugly he is!" "How clumsy you are!" etc Or what is worse: "Look at your brother, see how good he is!" Such comparisons are odious raise up only jealousy.
Never flatter either: "Isn't he a darling!" The child knows it only too well. Encourage him
but don't praise him. To praise him is to admire him for an advantage he has without merit on his part; to encourage him is to congratulate him on meritorious effort. Never tolerate the adulations of people who visit you either.