The Training & Disciplining Children
We hope this advice for parents is helpful in their endeavor to form a Catholic offspring. May St. Joseph, patron of families, bless and guide them.
TIA correspondence desk
Children come into the world with original sin & should not be the constant center of attention
Discipline commences while the child is in the cradle. This means that the mother must impose her will on the child from the earliest days. If not, the child will impose his will on the mother. If you plant a shrub in a garden and let it grow as it wishes, it will develop in a disordered manner. After a few years, it will be an ugly shape and certainly not an object of beauty. The good gardener prunes his shrubs every year and makes them grow to the shape he desires. The good mother must “prune” her child every day and make him develop in the Catholic way.
Babies come into this world with the stain of original sin. This stain is washed away by the Sacrament of Baptism but the wound in the soul of the child remains. That wound pre-disposes the child to do wrong rather than right. Left to their own desires, children will gravitate towards bad and evil habits. Children are selfish and self-centered.
The baby cries and the mother hurries to change his diaper. The baby cries again and the mother hurries to feed him. When the baby thinks he is the center of attention he will become a spoiled child and a bully. The mother must not create this habit and rush to answer his every demand. She should do what is reasonable with criterion.
Recognizing & punishing the ‘bullying cry’
Discipline should begin immediately. During the first 6 months, the mother should establish a timetable for changing the diaper and for feeding the child, and she should follow this timetable. Thus, the baby cries and mother ignores him until the time she has established arrives. At this stage the baby should be allowed to cry without consequences.
Mothers should learn to recognize the ‘bullying cry’
I recommend using a little instrument to slap such as a light wooden spatula. This becomes the “rod of discipline.” The bullying cry must be checked head on. Mother goes to the child and says a firm “No.” At the same time, she slaps on the palm or wrist or back of the hand, with the spatula. Not hard but just enough to leave a little sting. If the child continues to cry say “No” again and slap again. This might need to be repeated several times. After a few slaps you might let the child continue to cry but now the cry will be one of sadness for the little pain he is experiencing. Mother then feeds or changes the diaper in her planned time.
This regime takes time to be effective but mother should persevere as it will result eventually, in a child who remains quiet and obedient until mother decides to change or to feed. Note: I prefer not to use an instrument such as a wooden spoon or any other household item. The “slapper” should be used exclusively for that purpose.
Punishments should be immediate, made without anger, & always consistent
This is essentially the method of discipline for the first few years. The rod of discipline may now become an actual rod or perhaps a bigger spatula or a small leather strap. I do not recommend slapping with the hand. I think an instrument is better. In time that instrument will serve as a deterrent to naughtiness.
Traditional depictions of St. Nicholas encouraged the use of the rod of discipline
It is important when you punish a child you let that child suffer for a time. Then you must reassure the child of your love. Spend a little time with him at play or ask him to help you with something. Find time to ensure the child knows you are not angry in any way, just doing your duty.
At age 4/5 the child must be taught that father is the head of the house and will be involved in discipline. You explain to the child that mother will continue to punish for day-to-day offenses but father will punish for serious acts of disobedience or disrespect. Bear in mind also, there are other ways to punish your child: Standing in a corner, kneeling on a stool, removal of a treat or trip out. For a girl, for example, you could buy or make a certain dress and designate it as the “naughty dress” and have your child wear it to punish her.
A neighbor relates to the grandfather
the transgressions of his grandchildren
Always punish formally and calmly. Giving a bold child a slap as you grab him by the arm is not the way. Be calm but firm. The child must be still and hold out his hands as you direct. Teach him to take his medicine manfully and praise him for that afterwards. It can be good to have the child stand in the corner for a minute or two to contemplate his offence and the punishment to come.
As your child gets older, the methods do not change. You will, of course, need to use a paddle or a rod or strap or maybe mother uses one and father the other. You can explain your rules to the child and explain why punishment is necessary. As the child grows the need for corporal punishment should reduce, but I do not agree with an upper age limit.
In the case of girls for example, the years between 11 and 14 can be difficult, sometimes from a desire to rebel and other times from wayward hormones. With such girls an occasional slapping will be beneficial to restore balance. Once again, I prefer to slap on the palm than to spank.
I would tend to give boys more freedom and leeway than girls. Boys need to explore a little and find their way. Girls need to be led. Never accept sulking after punishment. Punish again if need be. A punished child should be prepared to apologize for his offence and get on cheerfully with his duties. In this way he shows respect for his parents and accepts he deserved the punishment.
The need for prayer
I have omitted the most important element in discipline until now. I refer of course to prayer. From the early days, mother must teach her little one to pray: The Sign of the Cross, The Hail Mary and gradually longer prayers.
A mother encourages her daughter to have devotion to Mary; below, learning to pray
At an appropriate age, the child must learn of the punishments of Purgatory and Hell. He must understand that when his parents command him, it is God Himself who commands him. He must learn the meaning of obedience. That it must be prompt, unquestioning and cheerful.
Explain if he asks “why must I do this,” this is disobedience. If he says “coming” and then waits for a minute, this is disobedience and if he comes with a sullen face, this is disobedience. Obedience also requires the child to complete the task given, as diligently and as promptly as possible.
Parents must demand the highest standards of behavior from their children. Allowances must never be made. Faults must be punished consistently. This is one of the biggest mistakes made by parents. If you punish a child today for negligence, you must also punish him tomorrow for the same offence. Failure to do so confuses the child utterly. Children appreciate fairness, justice and consistency. When he is young use the examples of Jesus and Mary. Little Jesus obeyed His parents without question. Mary, we know was exemplary in obedience to her parents and to Holy God. Choose one example.
Bring him to Holy Mass as soon as possible and train him to be still and quiet and, of course, when a little older, give him an appropriate prayer book. Teach him about the Holy Mass and train him to say the Holy Rosary. Expect good behavior. Do not make allowances or excuses for him. If he is bold, punish him severely when you get him home.
Your girls must dress very modestly at Holy Mass. Long sleeves, high neck and hemline to lower calf is best. A veil is essential. Girls often wear white veils every day to show they are pure. I think a black veil for Lent or at least for Holy Week is appropriate.
Meals, curfews, modesty & sports
At meal time a child must eat what is put in front of him. He must clear his plate and he must never complain on the food. Do not allow fads. Expect him to eat even food he does not particularly like. In fact, you should serve up food your children do not like at times so they can offer up a little sacrifice. Make him sit up and teach him good table manners. This is a good discipline and will make him morally stronger. During Lent children could offer a fast of some type, although the Church only obliges it after 14.
A Swiss boy learns to eat everything put before him in a proper manner
Do not allow unsupervised company keeping and be mindful if your son or daughter seems to have a friend who is too close. Do not allow rock or pop music. This will be difficult for them to understand but you must explain the dangers to morals that this type of music poses.
As they get older, impose a strict curfew. Earlier for the girls and never accept an excuse for tardiness. Punish if they are late. Friends must be vetted strictly and those considered unsuitable must be avoided and the children forbidden to see them. Mobile phones with internet access must not be allowed up to age 18. As the children get older into adolescence, they can be brought into the disciplinary process and asked for their input. However the final decisions must be made by the parents.
Always choose your children’s clothes and never allow them any freedom in this area until they are at least 12 years of age. Then allow them to offer their opinion, but explain that yours will be the final decision. Do not engage in debate with them.
A young man in elegant attire chosen by his mother
Be strict about modesty. Never allow an infant to be anything but fully covered. Even at bath time, be strict about cover. I would certainly never take children to beaches because of the rampant nudity one finds there. I favor private Catholic single sex schools if you cannot homeschool.
Sports are a problem because of the immodest dress, now apparently required. Competitive sports for boys are good. They teach them to be manly to accept victory or defeat with equanimity. They encourage both individuality and teamwork and boys can learn many skills that will be helpful in later life.
Do not allow your girls to play competitive sports. We do not want our girls to engage in physical combat or to learn aggression and we certainly do not want the short skirts or shorts that are worn today. I argue against girls playing any sports. Quite frankly I do not see the point in girls sport and I would ask parents to consider carefully if they want their Mary-like girls to be exposed to the immodesty and lewd talk that is common in dressing rooms.
Industry, courtesy & proper punishing
Industry & play in the nursery
Teach your daughter all the female skills she will require to be a good wife and mother herself. Cooking, sewing, knitting, mending and of course how to tidy, clean and arrange a home. An older daughter will need your advice on issues such as courtship, respecting herself, being Mary-like, her role in marriage, her duties in marriage as a wife and mother. This is a beautiful time for both mother and daughter to talk about “women’s issues” and the role God has set out for her.
A young girl helps her grandfather with his coat
When you punish an older child, find ways again to reassure the child that you love him as much as ever and that your punishment is a sign of love. A good idea would be for both of you to kneel in front of a statute or image of Our Lady and say three Hail Marys to ask Our Lady’s help to make the child more obedient. Insist also on an apology from the child always. If you punish unjustly, do not be afraid to admit it and apologize to the child. You might sometimes punish too severely. Admit that also. In this way the child sees you are just and fair.
Satan is constantly trying to tempt children to do wrong. Have your children invested with the Brown Scapular when they are older and make prayer a constant habit in your home. As a mother you must pray hard for your children. Your duty is a very onerous one as is that of their father. If your children lose their souls and if this is because you have been too liberal and lenient, God will hold you responsible. Parents must never forget this.
Parents must explain rules to children & then strictly enforce them
Mother should be sympathetic to her developing daughter but never stray from a strict disciplinary regime. There can never be an excuse for disobedience. Do not hesitate to slap your adolescent daughter. Do not be intimidated by the fact she may look grown up. She is still a child in need of direction. In the 1980s I ran a night school for girls who were underperforming in school. I interviewed each girl and her parents, usually the mother, before accepting a new pupil. I explained I would cane for laziness, tardiness, poor homework and classroom offences.
At left, a class of lazy boys in need of the ‘rod of discipline’
Children imitate adults in their play
Parents often concede to their children, if the children are allowed to plead and to beg for a rule to be amended or even discarded. This you must never allow. A child who tries to nag you must be immediately told he will be punished if he persists. Once a rule is made by the parents it is sacrosanct and cannot be questioned. It is vital parents agree on all issues regarding discipline and punishment. A child will quickly spot if there is a difference in approach and play one parent off against the other. This then becomes a weakness to be exploited by the child. Parents must support each other always in front of the child. Parental solidarity is vital on this and indeed, on all other issues.
Remember parents, you will be held responsible for the sins of your children, if you have not raised them in the fear of God. Religious and moral training are the foundations, on which a good healthy family life is founded. These are areas where mother must take responsibility.
Joyful family life when discipline & order are present
Parents, remember that yours is the best and most fulfilling job in the world. This applies especially to mothers. Mother if you can stay at home, please do so. If you cannot make ends meet, maybe you could reduce your expenditure in some way. Perhaps you could establish a little home industry, sewing or knitting or making prayer veils. The mother in the home is almost a guarantee of a good outcome for the child. God bless all parents who do the very best for their children.
It is a charity to punish transgressions