Lazy Children – Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J.


From Christ in the Home, Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J., 1950’s

It has been said that a great difficulty in child-training is to know when to caress and when to use corporal punishment. While it is true that many of the child’s faults arise from his physical condition, we should not exaggerate that fact; however, until we have proved that the fault is not the result of a physical state, an embrace is of more value than a spanking.

But here is a child whose faults are moral not physical, nor is there a psychological difficulty involved; he is sensual, he lies and he steals. There is nothing for it but to use restraints and punishments, without, however, neglecting wholesome encouragement at any manifestation of good will.

This is all very simple in theory, but the practical application of it is not always easy especially when the fault in question happens to be laziness.

When a normally intelligent child dawdles at his work; when in spite of all efforts to stimulate him with high motives of courage, hope of reward and similar attractions, he persists in his inertia, chances are that he has something physically wrong with him or he is suffering from poor hygienic conditions.

There was, for example, the little boy who appeared to be disgustingly lazy. One day, however, an attack of appendicitis made an operation imperative for him. Six months later, the child was at the head of his class.

Another child was in a classroom that was overcrowded and the atmosphere was so vitiated that he had difficulty breathing. He was sent to the country and immediately his work habits improved.

Corporal punishment in either of these two cases would have been no help in curing the laziness of the children; all that was necessary was to make conditions favorable for work.

But there are truly lazy children; theirs is a moral laziness: They won’t work at all because they don’t have the least bit of energy.

The Catechism defines laziness as “an excessive love of rest which makes one avoid every painful duty.” That is exactly what it is. Now people who work do so either through a taste for it, through self-respect or because of duty. The problem, then, with the really lazy child is to try to stimulate in him a liking for work or awaken in him a legitimate self-respect or develop in him a sense of duty.

Stimulate a liking for work: Sometimes children dislike school work especially because their beginning lessons in a subject were poorly taught. The child was repulsed by initial difficulties. That is often the case in mathematics.

“My son is getting along all right,” a mother explained, “but he is a little weak in Greek.” The fact was that the elements of that language had been badly explained to him.

A clever professor took him in hand, showed him that Greek was easier than Latin once the first difficulties of the alphabet, the declensions, and the conjugations had been conquered. The boy won a first in Greek.

Awaken a legitimate self-respect: Some children prefer rest and comfort to all else. The last place bothers them very little. They seem to have no ambition; they are utterly indifferent to success.

We need not fear to humiliate them but we must be vigilant not to discourage them. The dunce cap worn too often frequently produces a real dunce.

We must be ingenious to find a way to make that pupil succeed in something at least once. This could be a good starting point; then, if nothing comes of it, punishment should follow.

We are, it must be remembered considering the case of a child who does not succeed, not because he lacks the means, but because he does not work.

Develop a sense of duty: “You ought to work because papa and mamma wish it and God asks it.” Bring into play a filial spirit and love of God. Parents must know correct child psychology. They are the ones who have given him his physiological being.

It is up to them to examine whether anything in his physical condition explains his inertia at work; they are in a better position than anyone else to determine this.

If the deficiency is psychological, they have the responsibility for seeking into its cause and supplying the appropriate remedy. It is up to them, without substituting their own activity for the child’s to teach him how to will by stimulating his will.

Laziness is frequently traceable to an early childhood marked by too soft a training, an inadequate training in effort and endurance. The child did not start early enough to use profitably the opportunities to exercise liberty, to assume responsibility and to attack work.

The parents acted for him instead of trying to form him. They lacked skill in transforming play into work and work into play. They gave him toys which offered him no chance to use his intelligence, his constructive bent, his imagination and creative powers.

And whenever they held out the prospect of school life to him they led him to regard it as a task or punishment: “If you are not good at home we will send you to school soon,” instead of “If you are good, we shall be able to send you to school and you will have the joy of beginning to work.”

The child who is poorly trained will get accustomed to cutting his life up into two parts: the principal part belongs to pleasure with the other part thrown in from time to time — those boring moments assigned to work.

He should have been impressed with the idea that work is the law of our whole life; it is the unfolding and the extension of our powers and if it brings with it a certain amount of labor, it also brings with it a greater amount of joy which results from overcoming difficulties, acquiring new knowledge and opening up additional possibilities for advancing farther into the field of truth.

Recreations, games are but opportunities to relax and to stretch out into the open as it were to grasp new strength for further work.

Work should be presented not as a drudgery but as a conquest. Very early in life the child should be led to envision his future career or mission: “If you want to become an engineer, a sailor, then. . . .” Or “You will be a mother maybe and you will have to keep house.”

They should see that papa and mamma find pleasure in work and better still that work pleases God. We must all of us sanctify ourselves in the duty of our state at each moment whether we like it or not.

If we like it, so much the better. If we do not like it, then we ought to put greater generosity into it and offer our suffering for a worthy cause, such as the missions, the sanctification of priests and religious, one’s family and many similar good intentions.

Care should be taken not to overdo the reward idea, especially rewards promised as a prize for work requested; that develops calculating hearts.

Ask for work for the reasons previously indicated and wait for an opportunity to give an appropriate recompense on some other occasion; it will be so much more a prize since it will unexpected.

Question: If the home is such a powerful factor in the future of the children of a nation, why are such powerful groups in the nation arrayed against the home?

Answer: Precisely because the home is powerful. If it were not an important institution, the enemies of God and of man would leave it alone. Because the people who control the home control the future, because parents are the first representatives of God on earth, because within the home is the hope of morality . . . . for these reasons the men who wish to control the future, who hate God, and who would for their own selfish purposes wipe out morality attack the home openly or subtly.
-Fr. Daniel A. Lord, S.J.. Questions People Ask About Their Children, 1950’s

Sermons on Raising Children…

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