Dear Friends and Benefactors,
It was a pleasure seeing many of you at ordinations again
this year. It is also quite edifying to see an increasing number of families
returning each year. God will surely reward the sacrifice made to return year
This month let us return to the consideration of character
training in responsibility, so important in childhood development.
As rational animals, we learn a great deal by trial and
error, especially when we are young. Parents must understand that in order to
promote responsibility they should allow this process of trial and error to take
its course by not solving problems for their children that they are perfectly
capable of solving themselves. This will require proper supervision, neither too
much nor too little. The job of parents is not to prevent their children from
making errors but to ensure that errors are contained and that they convey
important lessons that will help their children learn to take responsible
control of their lives.
Many of todayís parents take their children and themselves
entirely too seriously. This results in parents who are a paradox of
overreaction and defensiveness. On the one hand, they become upset when their
children do something foolish; then on the other hand, they deny that their
children are even capable of such foolishness. They fear that such foolishness
may reflect some higher flaw in them. We must not forget that children are born
with original sin and even though cleansed by baptism, there remain the
weakening effects among which we find foolishness. This foolishness, coupled
with the fact that they have free will, make for unpredictable, incomprehensible
behavior on their part. Parents, therefore, need first to take the
responsibility of not denying that their children are capable of foolishness. If
the child is habitually foolish, then the parents must look to themselves, but
occasional foolishness can be expected from every child and says little about
the parents. Of course, parents have the responsibility to correct this
foolishness when it appears, by doing something to make their children a bit
less foolish. But they will not do this if they foolishly refuse to place the
blame where it belongs, on their children. One fool is enough in this relation.
There is a great difference between a child who makes
mistakes and one who chooses to misbehave even when he knows better. Children,
who value their parentís approval, are penitent when they realize that a mistake
is made and try to correct it, i.e., atone. Sometimes drama may be necessary to
show how serious the mistake is or to impress a permanent memory in the childís
mind. But if the cornerstone has been laid properly, these times will not be
dominant. In most cases, it will be sufficient for the parent to simply point
out the foolishness, making clear that repeat performances will not be favored
in order to correct the child.
The most effective way to allow this process of trial and
error and so prime children with responsibility is to assign a regular daily
routine of chores around the house. By age four, children should already be
pulling their own weight as full contributors to the family by doing routine
chores. Chores help children to see themselves as valued members of the family
because they participate in the family work, which also bonds them to the
values, which define and enrich the family. They will also gain a sense of
accomplishment and proper self-esteem and learn the principle of reciprocity,
give and take, which is very important in social life. Their participation will
also help to give them a sense of security and self-sufficiency as they learn so
many important domestic skills.
They should start with simple chores, at least by their third
year, and advance as they get older to more difficult ones. They can begin with
such things as picking up their toys, keeping their room clean, or helping to
clear the table. As they grow older, the chores can extend to all areas of the
home. They can make their own beds, help with the sweeping or vacuuming of the
house, take out the garbage, set and clear the whole table or wash and dry the
dishes. There are also many outdoor chores such as sweeping sidewalks, raking
leaves, helping in the garden by planting, weeding, watering and, of course,
picking and tasting the fruits of their labors. There is also the care of
animals, whether pets or livestock, through which they learn invaluable lessons
about life and even death.
It is very important that parents explain to their children
what is needed and what must be done for their various chores. Many of the
misbehavior problems parents have are the result of improper guidance as to what
is expected. When children know what is expected, because their parents have
clearly, calmly and commandingly communicated this to them, they will be much
less likely to disobey. Misbehavior often occurs because parents have not
communicated their expectations.
It is also important that parents understand that when asking
their children to do something they must not argue with them. The resulting
power struggle is one of the most vicious cycles in a parent-child relationship.
Many parents are tempted to stand over their children after asking them to do
something, thus giving them the opportunity to get into a power struggle, which
many children will do since they are, for the most part, unable to understand an
adultís viewpoint. The solution is to simply give instructions to the children
in a clear, calm and commanding way, then walk away. If after a reasonable time
period the child has not complied, impose a penalty that is unforgettable, even
if the child then decides to do it.
Unfortunately, there are far too many children in this
country who do not contribute to their families on a regular basis. In most
cases, it is a result of improper training by parents who try to reason it away.
They say it is more of a hassle to get the children to do something and do it
right than to do it themselves. Or they say that childhood should be relaxed and
carefree, not filled with responsibilities. Or they do not expect self-sacrifice
from their children, "Chores would interfere with my childís after-school
Through such excuses, children are taught to be selfish and
to think that they can get something for nothing. Remaining under this illusion,
they will never become full members in the family or any other social group. As
they enter school they will view education as something that someone gives to
you rather than something you have to work for and they will expect it and
everything else to be handed to them on a silver platter. Theirs will be a rude
awakening when they face the real world.
Since I will be gone for most of July, I will resume the
consideration of the 3Rís in the September Regina Coeli Report. Please
keep the intentions of our General Chapter in your prayers.
Sincerely in the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Fr. John D. Fullerton