What do we mean when we speak of maturity, why it is so important, and how do we teach it in the home and at school.
Maturity = responsibility + considerateness, shown in action. The willingness and ability to live with the consequences of one's actions and a habitual respect for the rights and sensibilities of everyone.
Parents need to think long-term: the children's future marriage, success in future professional and social circumstances, depth of ethical sense and religious responsibility. Every effort made by parents now to build strengths will affect their children's future lives.
Moral development means moving from the preoccupation with self to active service toward others. The child says, "What can you do for me?"; the adult says, "What can I do for you?"
Parents try to teach — through example, practice, and word — adult standards of upright thought and behavior. Therefore, use "we" when correcting children.
Patience is the key. All children will misbehave; they come into the world irresponsible, self-centered, and rude. Therefore they need from parents: (1) clear understanding of what's expected of them; (2) persistent follow-through over several years. Sooner or later (sometimes much later), the children will understand why their faults were corrected. Parents must have faith in this, and persevere in correction!
Show children that the family is a team, and their contribution is needed and expected.
Underlying principle of family life (and all of adult life): Authority must be proportional to responsibility. Since Parents bear nearly all ultimate responsibility, then they are in control and they make final decisions in important matters. Children can and should have "input," but not "control." Wise parents will listen to children's preferences, and accede to those of minor importance; but suggestions of children in more important matters must give way to parents' decisions. (Children flourish in an environment where they are listened to, but where competent adults are in confident control.)
Some rules for responsibility at home — what is expected of everyone in the family:
- If we lose or break something, we replace it or pay for it or do without it.
- If we drop something, we pick it up.
- If we spill something or dirty something, we clean it up.
- If we eat off something, we clean it and put it away. If we borrow something, we return it to where it belongs.
- If we cause offense, we apologize.
- If we skip a chore, we will do it later during play time. (If we play when it's time for work, we will work when it's time for play.)
- If we're playing with a toy, and a sibling wants to join, we will let him (her) join or we put the toy away.
- If we get up out of a seat, we lose the right to it. (Parents excepted, of course.)
- If we're going to be late, we call.
- [For teens] If we borrow a car, we return it with at least a quarter-tank of gas. Non-compliance means non-use of the car next time we want it.
- We stay out of other people's belongings and personal affairs. (No commentary when a sibling is being corrected or punished.)
- We keep family affairs within the family; we keep others affairs (gossip) out of the family. We mind our own business.
- Patient teaching (i.e., hundreds of corrections) re good manners is a ramp-up to habitual considerateness. The four pillars of the civilized mind are: "please," "thank you," I'm sorry," "I give my word of honor."
- Habitual use of courtesy leads eventually to habitual respect for the rights and feelings of others. Practicing good manners leads to (1) self-respect, (2) earning the respect of others, (3) bringing honor to parents and the whole family (family honor)
The Whole Family Needs to Practice
- Manners at the dinner table: please & thank you; asking for things out of reach; no talk about food (except to compliment the cook); no gossip re anyone; prayers of thanksgiving, etc.
- Telephone manners: identify yourself on the phone; "May I please speak with ____?"(not "Is _____ there?"); no yelling (lung-powered intercom) for someone to come to the phone; taking messages intelligently. [Remember: the phone has replaced the front door as the entranceway to the home.]
- Making introductions, and making them graciously. Shaking hands in an adult way (no "warm codfish" handshakes).
- Treating adults with respect, all adults: letting adults go first through a doorway; responding to "How are you?" with "Fine, thank you... and you?"; addressing adults by name, where appropriate ("Mr. ___ ," "Mrs. ____ ," "Sir," "Ma'am"); saying please and thank-you to people who wait on us.
- Call or write "thank-you" for gifts and favors. (Children need to learn how to write letters, a dying custom and courtesy especially to thank relatives for birthday and Christmas gifts.)
Dr. Ray Guarendi. Back to the Family (NY: Villard Press, 1991).
James Stenson. Preparing for Adolescence (NY: Scepter Press, 1990). (booklet of advice for parents, to prepare long-term for children's later adolescence)
Stenson, James. "Teaching Maturity and Considerateness at Home." unpublished article.
Published with the permission of the author.
James 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 FathersThe 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 © 1999 James Stenson
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