It happened today. Rose got up on a chair to reach a banana, and toppled onto the floor. I had told her umpteen times not to climb on that chair, and I lost my temper and spoke to her in anger. The combination of concern for her well being and guilt that I had not gotten there sooner led to my sudden outburst. After I had made sure she was ok and put all the girls in bed, I collapsed in my bed, thinking that I needed some serious help in the area of my children’s discipline. Now that I have a three year old and a two year old, disobedience is rearing its ugly head and I don’t know how to deal with it. Like the answer to an unsaid prayer, I saw on my nightstand the slim black volume that my mother had given me months ago. I picked it up and perused it.
It is entitled, “Mother’s Manual: Prayers and Advice for Catholic Mothers” by A. Francis Coomes, S. J. In it was a chapter entitled, “Child Correction.” My interest was piqued. I found a paragraph that I liked.
Obedience is a great virtue of childhood. Of the Christ Child we are told: “He was subject to them [Mary and Joseph].” Obedience should be insisted on, and respect for parents in their proper exercise of authority should be demanded. But this respect will hardly be fostered unless the parents merit it by their conduct.
Well, I liked it until that last sentence. Merit my children’s respect by my conduct? What does that even mean? Well, Coomes tells me.
Neither commands nor corrections should ever be given with a show of anger or with shouting that shows irritation. It is always a mistake to correct a child in a hasty manner or with a show of temper or anger. It is even more a mistake to strike a child in a fit of anger.
It all makes perfect sense, but to see it in print for some reason strengthened my resolve to make this a priority and not fail my kids again. It went on to say that if a punishment is administered in anger, the child will recognize only the anger and not the reason for the punishment. The child will be antagonized and will feel justified in her rebellion instead of profiting from your correction. If, however, the correction is administered with the proper calm and dignity, the child may then realize she has done wrong but is still loved. But the question remains, how do I make sure I always maintain the proper calm when my children are disobedient and do wrong?
Above all, a parent should learn to pray for light and guidance in the office of child correction. Hasty words cannot be unsaid, and hasty actions cannot be undone. A moment of deliberation and prayer often makes the difference between a hasty and futile correction and a well-administered and profitable one.
Children look to us (that is, their parents) as an example and guide of right and wrong, and that is a weighty responsibility. From now on, I am going to pray that I fulfill this duty according to God’s will and stop, take a breath, and say a quick prayer if I feel myself losing my fiery Cuban temper. Worthy discipline will bring my child closer to me and both of us closer to God. And I must endeavor to keep my pride and selfishness at bay as well. Because we may not realize it, but those little ones are always watching us, and pick up on many peccadilloes (or serious sins) that we hope go unnoticed.
The book also stressed never saying words of anger to your spouse in front of the children, no matter what age they are. It is important on the occasion that angry words bubble up to keep a patient silence (NOT an angry silence) and wait to discuss it in private, if necessary. Marital discord makes children feel like their security is at risk (with good reason).
I really appreciated this gold mine of familial wisdom, but oy! I have so much to work on. It is helpful to have all this written out in an easy outline so that I can consult it at will. I hope it proves fruitful for you, as well. What is your advice on child discipline? I love tapping into the brain trust of mommy wisdom.
Lately, when Ruth has done something that she knows is wrong, she will cautiously approach me to confess her wrongdoing but always asks first, “Are you a mean mama or a nice mama?” It always releases the tension and makes me giggle. From now on, girls, I will strive to be a firm but kind mama, and to lead by example. But as soon as you are old enough, I am going to ask you to pray for mama. I am going to need it!