by S. Hart

From the Australian Magazine, Catholic Family

Children Need Discipline

“In the home where the fear of God and the love of children are found,” writes Cardinal Mindszenty in The Mother, “parental authority reigns as the most solid of all human authority, if it is based on love, goodness and mutual trust, and not on severity. But from this we cannot conclude that parental authority must be entirely lacking in severity.”

A little lad was giving his parents a great deal of difficulty because he often had “tantrums” whenever he was told to do something which was not to his liking. From the time he was a baby he had made it a habit to stamp his feet, cry, yell, and in general, “carry on,” until his weak and helpless parents did as he wished. They had always given in eventually, so, of course, the little fellow had never failed to use his most effective weapon.

When he was about five, his uncle came to stay with the family for a few days. At first, the boy was on his best behavior, but when he was told to do something he did not want to do, he immediately went into his act.

The visiting uncle watched, surprised that mother and dad gave in, after which the tantrum immediately ended. The next day the same thing happened, and the uncle ventured to say, “Now listen, you shouldn’t act like that.”

The boy had his answer ready: “Oh, I can’t help it; I’m like that, really. Even Mum says so. I just can’t help it.”

A short time before he left, the uncle made an offer to the boy: “How would you like to come camping with me for a week?” The lad accepted very happily. To his parents, the uncle promised, “When I bring him back, he’ll be changed. You’ll see.”

The first time the young fellow answered back and threw a tantrum, his uncle gave him a good spanking, such as he had never received before. Surprised and angry, he yelled even louder, but he only received more.

“What did you do that for?” he tearfully asked his uncle.

“Why,” his uncle responded, “I can’t help it. When I see little boys act that way, I have to spank them. I’m like that!” Only once more did the boy try to get his way, but the same thing happened, and his uncle once again explained, “I can’t help it. I’m like that.”

Never again did the lad have another tantrum. In only a week he had learned his lesson… “Train the character of your children,” urged Pope Pius XII. “Correct their faults, encourage and cultivate their good qualities. Your children, conscious as they grow up and as they begin to think and desire, that they are guided by a good parental will, constant and strong, free from violence and anger, not subject to weakness or inconsistency, will learn in time to see therein the interpreter of another and higher will, the will of God.”

“Some mothers may say,” continues Pope Pius XII, “‘Children are so difficult to manage nowadays! I can do nothing with that son of mine; that daughter of mine is impossible.’ Admittedly, many boys and girls show themselves intractable. But why? Because when they were two or three years old they were allowed to do as they pleased.”

“We think of the little boy,” writes His Eminence, Richard Cardinal Cushing, “who was misbehaving during the children’s Mass. Finally reproved by an adult seated nearby, he protested in wide-eyed astonishment: ‘But, I’m only four years old!’

“We can readily envisage the scene which took place in his home,” continues His Eminence, “when his mother, defending his naughtiness, said: ‘But he’s only four years old!’

Children are natural mimics. They remember…

“I WILL!” or “I WON’T!” should have no place in the vocabulary of a child or youth when he contradicts what a parent has decreed must be. The little boy—misguided and uninstructed—who throws a stone at a window in order to hear the pane smash must realize that he deserves punishment, and that it grieves his parents to inflict it.

However, parents should not spoil the lesson by getting sentimental about it. When a wise and just rule has been set down and the punishment for breaking it established, no weakness on the part of the parents should prevent its being carried out. Otherwise, the child will lose respect for authority and devise every possible way of making his parents conform to his will.

There is no need to be surprised if the child attempts to show his protest against the correction by pouting. This is a precious weapon the weak use against those stronger than they—appearing to be sad, oppressed, suffering and in general, real victims. This habit of sulking, however, is dangerous, so let parents apply themselves to cure their children of it right from the start.

Effects of this pouting, especially in regard to girls, are dangerous for the future; girls already have the tendency to act like victims. If they are always quick to put on a “sad face” for any little thing, they are risking greatly the peace of the homes they themselves will make in future years.

In punishing his children, the good parent is absolutely impartial. There are no favorites, and no pre-conceived convictions disposing him to decide without evidence that “Johnny must have done it because he’s a troublemaker,” or “Mark would never do anything wrong.”

The good parent gives his child the opportunity to defend himself, and does not go ahead with the punishment if he sees that the little one is really innocent.

The punishment should always be in proportion to the fault. Children become very confused if they are not punished when they have been really impudent or mean, and are punished severely instead, when they accidentally break a glass. The best way to maintain proper proportion between punishment and fault is to consider not so much the external action as the child’s intention.

Sometimes there is a tendency to let one’s personal mood of sadness or joy influence punishment. For no reason he can see, a child thus finds himself one day treated with great leniency and the next day with excessive severity. Constant vigilance will prevent this disturbing fluctuation and the rebellion which often results from it.

Punishment given by an infuriated parent, who shouts and threatens, may frighten the child considerably, but it will never result in real moral betterment. In fact, when your anger is aroused, it is better not to punish; at least, do not punish beyond measure. If you keep control over yourself, you will not scold unreasonably, which does little or no good. A child is edified by the sight of his father or mother proceeding calmly to discipline him; the punishment becomes less hateful to him and far more effective.  It is a wise rule, then, to wait until personal irritation has died down and one is in complete control of himself before punishing.

Let parents be careful in punishing. Constant discipline administered without love by unfeeling parents can have as many harmful effects as the unwise spoiling of a child by overindulgent parents. It can result in children who are unhappy, oppressed by tormenting fears, unable to believe in sincere affection, full of hidden resentment, or inclined to lie and deceive in the effort to escape punishment.

Chastisements should be used only as extraordinary means in absolute necessity, that is, when children are rebellious, selfish or mean and cannot be reasoned with. At such times, they need to be disciplined.

Some children, possessed of naturally docile and happy dispositions, may not need spankings at all. A disapproving word or look may suffice to discipline them. Actually, corporal punishment is one of the poorest tools for forming character. With little tots, however, a good quick spanking is far more efficacious than a long sermon. Nonetheless the impression doesn’t last too long and it will lose its effectiveness if used all the time.

Punishments of a moral nature are to be preferred to physical punishment, because the former may be of various degrees and are very effective. Examples of such punishment are: expressed disapproval, public re-proof, “cool treatment” for a certain period of time to show displeasure, and the removal of the child from some responsibility or duty at home which he considers an honor. This type of punishment is based on the child’s desire and need to feel trusted, esteemed and loved.

Good punishments, in fact, must not simply make the child “pay” for his misdemeanors. They must aim to better him, to preserve him from new falls, to strengthen his will by making the wrong-doing appear much less attractive. Wise punishments should teach children to make “correct decisions” by themselves.

It is related in the life of St. John Bosco that when he was a boy of five, he entered the house with his older brother Joseph, and both being extremely thirsty they asked their mother for a glass of water. After she had drawn the water, the mother handed the first glassful to Joseph. John was hurt because of this preference, and when his mother handed him a glass of water, he refused it. Without saying a word, his mother took the glass of water away.

For a while, John was silent, then he addressed his mother very timidly: “Mother, may I have a glass of water too?”

“I thought you were not thirsty,” she replied.

With that, John threw his arms about his mother’s neck, saying: “Forgive me, Mother.”

Years later, this same John Bosco one day learned from his assistant that there was ill humor among his boys. To put it to an abrupt end, he said to them that evening after prayers: “My dear boys, I am not pleased with you. For this evening I shall say no more. Go to bed.”  The Saint’s words made a profound impression you may be sure.

A note of warning may be appropriate here: may your reproofs never turn into unbecoming invectives, scornful name-calling, and the like. Some deplorable acts can only do real harm. It is so easy to fall into the habit of scolding. But a constant stream of angry, harsh words falling on the child’s ear causes only misery and tension. And after a while, the youngster will just ignore them in self-defense.

Real love of the child, however, eliminates the danger of falling into this error. Parents cannot be rid of their responsibility by trying to turn over their authority to someone else. Their authority comes from God, not to be abused, but to be used out of love to help their children grow mature in Christian living.

If authority is always exercised for the betterment of the child, not just for the parents’ convenience, children will come to understand that in obeying mother and father, they are obeying God, who gives parents the right and duty to guide and instruct their offspring.

Help the youngsters to see that in disobeying your rulings they are offending God. When your child says he is sorry after disobeying, have him tell God he is sorry, also.

Mother and dad, if you bring up your children in the holy love and fear of God, you will keep them from many dangers and will reap much joy from them.

“The parent who loves his children and takes pleasure in training them in right conduct gives the best possible testimonial to marriage. On the other hand, the parent who constantly complains about his physical, financial or emotional burdens breaks down his youngster’s vision of marriage as a worthy state in life.” – Rev. George A. Kelly http://amzn.to/2yxKIes (afflink)

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