There’s no question about it! Discipline is the hot topic in Catholic home schooling circles today. I receive calls about discipline problems every week.
I believe that worry about discipline is the most common reason people hesitate to begin teaching their children at home. “What if they don’t listen to me and do their work?” is a common question.
Judging from my phone calls, discipline may also be the most frequent reason Catholics put their children back into school. I have heard, “My house was a zoo, it was a fight to get them to do any schoolwork, and I’m just stressed out.”
I also hear, and have experienced myself, support group activities where some of the children were simply out of control and ruined everybody’s good time.
Where does it come from?
The television commercial shows a young innocent face, the eyes welling up with tears. In the background you hear raving adult voices, “I can’t take you anymore!” Then the voiceover, “Words hurt! Think before you speak.”
Many Catholic families have been influenced by modern American social thought which tends to blur the distinction between child correction and child abuse. The inference from commercials like the one I’ve described is that yelling at your children is a form of abuse and will scar them for life. Never mind that the kid just poured a can of Comet into the fishbowl!
There are other sources for the discipline problem though, that start closer to home. Many Catholics are attempting to return their families to a more natural state. These moms have unmedicated births, often at home. They breastfeed their children, feed them unprocessed foods and allow them to sleep in a “family” bed with the parents. Many of these ideas have considerable merit and will give a young child a good healthy start on life.
The problems begin, however, when parents form the idea that these practices will somehow produce children of such natural goodness that they will not need further correction. Thus many parents view children wandering around church at Mass as just a display of their “natural curiosity.” They fail to see that others may view such behavior as distracting and disrespectful. These parents forget what Holy Mother Church has always taught about the effects of original sin.
What’s the truth?
The truth concerning discipline in the Catholic family is not difficult to discern. As any Seton student can tell you, the Fourth Commandment of God is, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Therefore we have a serious obligation to teach our children to be respectful and obedient. For their part, our children have a serious obligation to be respectful and obedient to their parents and to any other person who might have legitimate authority over them. Our children must be taught to obey all the Commandments, including the Fourth. They must learn that deliberate disobedience or lack of outward respect to a parent is sinful and should be confessed. Failure, by the parents, to teach or enforce this commandment is also sinful and should be confessed. I am always amazed to meet wonderful Catholic parents who would be appalled if their children snatched a candy bar from the local drug store (breaking the Seventh Commandment), but who tolerate routine, habitual disrespect.
Is there an answer?
The solution to this problem is correct early, correct often. As soon as a child is old enough to understand, about 18 months, they must be taught that certain behaviors are unacceptable in your family. Often the words, “No, no!” spoken in a firm tone are enough to make a small child realize that he should not touch something. As soon as the child begins to speak, she must learn common courtesy. “Gimme a cookie” should be answered with, “May I have a cookie, please” and the cookie withheld until the sentence is repeated. When you give the baby something, have him repeat a “thank you” to you. Teach your children to greet adults politely and by name, “Good morning, Mrs. Clark.”
Any willful behavior or early show of temper must be corrected immediately. My husband and I had a real problem with one of my daughters who was a very fussy infant. By 18 months she had started screaming and throwing herself on the floor when she didn’t get her own way. We never, repeat never, allowed ourselves to give in to her. If we thought her tantrum was from being overtired, she was put to bed. If it was just willfulness, we picked her up and placed her on a couch in another room with the instructions to “Just sit there until you can be a good girl.” Had we doubted ourselves, and given in to her displays of temper, I am convinced this particular child could have been one of those children you see screaming in checkout lines at the grocery store. Instead, I can say, with complete honesty, that she is a cheerful and cooperative kid—a pleasure to be with.
Who will help?
Remember that the Blessed Mother is always ready to help us with our family responsibilities. Pray to her often about your children’s behavior. Don’t forget their Guardian Angels either. We often pray to our own angels, but can certainly talk to the children’s angels, as well. Be specific! Ask Johnny’s angel for help with that fresh mouth of his. Ask Janie’s angel to help her not to be lazy.
We home schooling parents have a unique opportunity, as well as the serious responsibility, to be the primary moral educators of our children. Dedicate this task to the Holy Family of Nazareth and you will be ready to meet this challenge.