7 Saintly tips on how to discipline a child, from Don Bosco

Saint John Bosco’s helpful advice for the weary parent or frustrated teacher

One of the most challenging things about raising a child is knowing how, and when, to discipline. What is a parent (or teacher) to do when a kid knows the exact buttons to push for maximum challenge, and nothing seems to be working?

Meet Saint John Bosco. You may call him “Don,” in respectful affection, if you like.

Don Bosco knows precisely what you’re going through, as he devoted his entire life to forming young rebellious boys. He took in hundreds of disadvantaged youth, educating them and exerting all of his energy towards turning these boys into upright men who would serve the greater good of society.

As his efforts grew, John Bosco needed the help of others. This meant forming new teachers, too.

In his letters to the teachers, John Bosco lays out a detailed “Preventive System” of education that seeks to dispose “the pupils to obey not from fear or compulsion, but from persuasion. In this system all force must be excluded, and in its place, charity must be the mainspring of action.”

Here are seven tips that Saint John Bosco gave his teachers that are still relevant today and can help the weary parent or frustrated teacher guide children to the path of virtue.

1) Punishment should be your last resort.

In my long, career as an educator, how often this has been brought home to me! No doubt it is ten times easier to lose our patience than to control it, to threaten a boy than to persuade him. No doubt, too, it is much more gratifying- to our pride to punish those who resist us, than to bear them with firm kindness. St. Paul often lamented how some converts to the faith too easily returned to their inveterate habits; yet he bore it all with patience as zealous as it was admirable. This is the kind of patience we need in dealing, with the young.

2) The educator must strive to make himself loved by his pupils, if he wishes to obtain their respect.

When he succeeds in doing this, the omission of some token of kindness is a punishment which rekindles emulation, revives courage and never degrades.

Every educator must make himself loved, if he wishes to be feared. He will attain this great end if he makes it clear by his words, and still more by his actions, that all his care and solicitude are directed towards the spiritual and temporal welfare of his pupils.

3) Except in very rare instances, corrections and punishments should not be given in public, but privately and apart from the others.

We should, therefore, correct them with the patience of a father. Never, as far as possible, correct in public, but in private, or as they say — in camera caritatis –apart from the others. Only in cases of preventing or remedying- serious scandal would I permit public corrections or punishments.

4) To strike one in any way, to make him kneel in a painful position, to pull his ears, and other similar punishments, must be absolutely avoided.

The law forbids them, and they greatly irritate the boys and lower the reputation of the educator.

5) The educator must see that the laws of discipline, and the rewards and punishments entailed, are made known to the pupil, so that no one can make the excuse that he did not know what was commanded or forbidden.

[In other words, children need boundaries and respond well to them. No one feels secure if they are flying blind, and they’ll always crash.]

6) Be exacting when it is a matter of duty, firm in the pursuit of good, courageous in preventing evil, but always gentle and prudent. I assure you, real success can only come from patience. 

Impatience merely disgusts the pupils and spreads discontent among the best of them. Long experience has taught me that patience is the only remedy for even the worst cases of disobedience and irresponsiveness among boys. Sometimes, after making many patient efforts without obtaining success, I deemed it necessary to resort to severe measures. Yet these never achieved anything, and in the end, I always found that charity finally triumphed where severity had met with failure. Charity is the cure-all though it may be slow in effecting its cure.

7) To be real fathers in dealing with the young, we must not allow the shadow of anger to darken our countenance.

If at times we are taken unawares, let the bright serenity of our minds immediately disperse the clouds of impatience. Self-control must rule our whole being-our mind, our heart, our lips. When someone is at fault, arouse sympathy in your heart and entertain hope in your mind for him; then you will correct him with profit.

In certain difficult moments, a humble prayer to God is much more useful than a violent outburst of anger. Your pupils will certainly draw no profit from your impatience, and you will not be edifying anyone who may observe you.

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