Qualities of Successful ParentsJAMES STENSON
James Stenson outlines the proven methods and techniques of effective Christian parenting today.The
entire purpose of children's upbringing that which unites discipline, schooling,
and the myriad details of family life is this: that children be led to become
competent, responsible, considerate men and women who are committed to live by
Knowing the catechism alone is not enough. Children must
be led to become humanly stalwart men and women responsible, educated,
discerning, tough-minded, compassionate, and courageous. These are the kind of
adults whom the Church will need over the next several decades to “renew the face
of the Earth.”
In other words, the children need to internalize the seven great
virtues of Christian life: faith, hope;. charity, prudence (sound judgment), justice
(responsibility), fortitude (personal toughness & persistence), and temperance
(self-control, an ability to control one's feelings & appetites). Children acquire
these strengths of mind and heart and will in three ways:
- what they see in their parents and other adults whom they respect.
- what they repeatedly are led to do, or are made to do, by parents and others.
(c) word - verbal explanations
for what they see and are led to do.
All three of these approaches
are necessary, and in this order. Talks and lectures, scoldings and corrections
these are minimally effective without ongoing example and practice at home.
A great number of parents succeed at this task of upbringing. These successful
parents vary considerably in temperament, background, tactics of discipline, and
experience. Nonetheless they manage to raise their children well. Experience indicates
that they have several common approaches and principles operating in family life.
These are outlined below, and they are expressed here in the form of advice:
- Bear in mind: you are raising adults, not children. Don't make the common
mistakes of many parents today: (a) seeing discipline mostly as punishment, and
(b) seeing its end as mere cooperative behavior, effective “child domestication,”
peace and quiet at home. Discipline is actually the process of leading children
toward responsible Christian adulthood. Keep this aim constantly before you: what
kind of adults your children should become, and therefore what needs to be reformed
within them now to bring this goal about.
By their late teens, the children
should have lifetime practice in living the seven great virtues. The tactics of
discipline rules, regulations, punishments, etc. are far less important
than striving toward the children's later life as strong men and women. This is
why so many different approaches to discipline among various parents are equally
effective. What effective parents have in common is the ideal: their children's
future lives as men and women.
- Work as a unified team. Put
your spouse first. This does more than anything else to put children firmly on
the right track toward responsible adulthood. The children notice everything,
and they learn by example. Bear in mind: the children's honor toward each parent
will mirror the attitudes of the other parent. When a husband honors his wife,
the children honor their mother. When a wife esteems her husband, the children
quietly see him as a hero. Differences of opinion in important family matters
(e.g., approaches to punishment) must be resolved somehow for the children's sake.
Each child has only one mind and one conscience, and therefore must receive one
and the same direction coming from both parents. Well-raised children see each
parent as “the boss.”
- Practice “affectionate assertiveness”
with your children. Be neither weakly sentimental nor harshly aggressive. Give
steady affection in abundance, combined with clear and confident assertion of
what's right. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” show your children that you
love them too much to let their faults go uncorrected. Give praise when they do
what's right, even if they've been made to do it. Make praise as specific as blame;
we tend to make blame specific but praise vague.
Be conscious that no
is also a loving word, and a necessary means for the children's growth in self-control.
This self-mastery is an absolute necessity for life; in adolescence, it may even
be a matter of life or death.
Direct your children, but don't overmanage
them. They need to learn from mistakes, and they need to grow in confidence from
pitting their powers against problems. From time to time, they need to hear from
you: “You can do it. Keep trying. Don't give up.” Children who are directed in
youth grow to respect and trust their parents' judgment, and they turn to parents
later, even in adolescence, for guidance and sound advice.
Do not permit what you disapprove of. Your confident judgment of right and wrong
is the basis for your children's growth in strength of conscience. You may sometimes
doubt the rightness of a given decision, but never doubt your right to make a
decision in the first place and make it stick. If the children see you
habitually back down from what you judge to be right, they may later let their
conscience be overwhelmed by “feelings,” peer-pressures, and the allurements of
Do not surrender in their attempts ages 2-5 and
later at 13-17 to be “boss.” If you are “boss” when they are young, you
will give leadership through their adolescence; but if you capitulate when they
are young, you may lose them in their teens. They will have neither your control
nor any self-control, and this can lead to disaster.
When should you
punish severely, even physically? In three fundamental circumstances. First, if
they show deliberate disrespect for you personally. Secondly, if they deliberately
defy your rightful authority. Third, if they break their word of honor, telling
a cold-blooded, deliberate lie. Everything you have to teach them everything
depends on their internalizing respect for you and for their own word of
honor. (This is analogous to what happens in the criminal-justice system
contempt of court and perjury are extremely serious matters. Everything else in
the system depends on respect for the court's authority and reliance on one's
truthfulness under oath.) Therefore, serious flaws in these matters must never
- Teach children habitual courtesy, good manners
toward everyone. That is, teach them habitual considerateness for the rights and
sensibilities of everyone. Work to build within them the four great pillars of
civilized adulthood: “please,” “thank you,” “I'm sorry,” and “I give my word of
honor.” These are not just pleasant decorations to our speech; they reflect the
inner values of responsible, considerate, self-disciplined adults. The attitudes
underlying courtesy lead to chastity in adolescence and a solid, stable Christian
marriage. Note, too, their relation to religion a lifelong loving relation
with God means saying, over and over again, “please,” “thank you,” “I'm sorry,”
and “I give my word.”
- Don't let the media win as rivals for
your children's minds and hearts. Keep television under your discriminating control.
Your control of this powerful medium enhances your children's perception of your
strength. Have as a dictum in your home: “We will have nothing in this house that
considers or treats other people as mere things no pornography (or anything
like it), no gratuitous violence, no disrespect or rudeness, no gossip or backbiting.”
Keeping the media under control leads to enrichment of family life:
more reading, more conversation, more leisurely meals together, more family solidarity,
more respect for the parents' leadership. Therefore, this rule - Use television
in the same way that you use wine: when it enhances family life, is of good quality,
is used in moderation, and is under parental supervision.
Cultivate a sense of personal and family honor. The truth first, foremost, always
in family life. Realize that all children will lie spontaneously to defend themselves;
but what cannot be tolerated is the cold, deliberate falsehood to avoid responsibility.
Therefore, for serious matters, have a fallback position by which you put children
on their honor “Take a few minutes, think it over, then tell me the truth
on your honor. Whatever you say on your honor, I will believe. But you must tell
the truth. There's a big difference between telling a lie and being a liar.” (Then,
when they tell the truth under these circumstances, praise them for their courage
Also cultivate children's sense of how they represent
the family in the outside world, for good or for ill. (Teaching manners is a sound
way to reinforce this; when children are courteous to adults, they bring honor
to the family.) Everyone in the family takes healthy pride in the children's accomplishments.
And everyone is endangered by disgrace if the children do something seriously
wrong. Teach much about grandparents and forebears, especially how they struggled
to preserve the Faith, often at great personal sacrifice. We are all descended
from real heroes.
- Teach the children indifference to being
“different.” What others think of us is not really important not compared
with loyalty to God's will, maintaining a clean conscience, upholding family honor.
Anyone who tries to live an honorable Christian life will inevitably be somewhat
different from others. Therefore, be strong enough to withstand “peer pressures”
and ignore them.
When children plead for fad items (clothing, toys,
jewelry) simply because “everyone else is doing it,” then make them wait. No impulse
purchases; you will take several weeks to think about the matter before deciding.
By making the children wait, you show them several important things: (a) the desired
item is not particularly important, certainly not urgent; (b) comments by peers.
can be withstood and eventually pass away; (c) fads come and go; (d) you are in
control, and you exercise prudential judgment for the children's welfare, taking
your responsibility seriously.
Bear in mind that one day the children
will be under pressure to go along with the crowd with drugs, alcohol,
promiscuous sex, abandonment of religion. By that time, they should have long
practice in ignoring what others think and doing what's right regardless of public
- Bind family life with prayer and the sacraments.
Make clear to the children that you, as parents, are also children of God. Teach
them to love God, to console Him, to revere Him in the Blessed Sacrament, to ask
His help and forgiveness. Lead them to see Him as friend, consoler, the object
of our loving devotion all our lives.
Let your children see you have
confident recourse to the Mother of God and our Mother. Like all good mothers,
she has eyes for our small but important needs. She is the protectoress of the
Teach them by example to love the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Christ said that we must become like little children to enter His kingdom. He
gives us this gift of spiritual childhood with every sincere, contrite confession.
Christ rewards our contrition by giving us once again the innocence and purity,
the happiness and peace of mind that we enjoyed in childhood. No matter what our
age, we become children again through confession.
Finally, bear in
mind that God chose you as His instrument to bring greatness and holiness to your
children. Put your children in His hands, and you will find the wisdom and strength
to do what's right no matter what the obstacles. God will not leave your prayers
for your children unanswered.
James. “Qualities of Successful Parents.” Scepter Booklets, 1996.
in acquiring bulk copies of this booklet should contact Scepter Press, 481 Main
Street, Suite 203, New Rochelle, N.Y. 10801, U.S.A. Tel. (914) 636-3377.
Stenson is the author of Anchor:
God's Promises of Hope to Parents, Compass:
A Handbook on Parent Leadership, Upbringing:
A Discussion Handbook For Parents of Young Children and Lifeline:
The Religious Upbringing of Your Children among others. Mr. Stenson is
also the author of numerous articles and booklets including the very popular “Preparing
for Peer Pressure, A Guide for Parents of Young Children” and “Successful
Fathers The Subtle but Powerful Ways Fathers Mold Their Children's
Characters”. An educator, author, and public speaker, Stenson was the co-founder
of The Heights School in suburban Washington, D.C. and founder and first headmaster
of Northridge Preparatory School in suburban Chicago.
Copyright © 1996 Scepter