Article by Father Raoul Plus, S.J., Christ in the Home
The child is naturally innocent. Moreover, if baptized, it possesses with infused faith a special quality of innocence which comes to it from the presence of the Holy Spirit in its soul. We must avoid any diminishing of this innocence.
It is a great mistake to think that because the child is innocent, “it doesn’t understand,” and consequently to take no precautions; to be lacking in vigilance over the child’s bathing and dressing, to let it run about without clothes, unsupervised before its brothers and sisters.
The adults of the family, too, should avoid any immodesty either in posture or dress before the little one; they should keep out of its way pictures of questionable decency.
True, at the time, the harm may be slight or even negative, but the child has eyes and a memory; it registers everything, stores it all away.
Great care should be exercised for bodily cleanliness to prevent the formation of bad habits that might result from discomfort. It is best to separate the sexes for sleep.
As the children grow older, we must be vigilant over their choice of playmates. We should protect them from any pictures, statues, advertisements or entertainment that can disturb them.
We are wise if we keep the children busy even to the point of fatigue, but a fatigue in keeping with their age and strength. We ought also to inspire them to absolute confidence. In addition we must seize every opportunity to show them positively the grandeur of purity.
People sometimes attempt to rear children as if they were without sex. Children are either little boys or little girls.
Long before the awakening of their sex instincts, in fact from their babyhood, their personality is distinctly individual and gives foreshadowings of fatherhood or of motherhood.
Sex, although its characteristic functions do not become active until the onset of puberty, impregnates the whole physical and moral being from the beginning.
Consequently, it is important to foresee long in advance the unfolding of that providential power which is still dormant yet capable of being influenced beneficially or detrimentally at this early stage according to the wisdom of the folly of its training.
We should not, however, be satisfied with a purely negative training to holy purity, a training made up for the most part of wise precautions.
There is need, too, for positive training in this beautiful virtue.
This positive training will in part consist of education in true facts, a discreet and chaste explanation of the functions of the generative organs according to God’s plan; an explanation as complete as the age of the child permits or requires.
The duty of giving this instruction falls largely upon the mother who only too often finds herself inadequately prepared.
It is a fact that even very young children become curious about the difference of the sexes as well as the mystery of generation and they express their curiosity with embarrassing candor and directness in blunt questions: “Where do babies come from?”
In general, no one is better qualified than the mother to give the initial instructions and information delicately, without wounding innocence or troubling and shocking the child’s keenly susceptible soul by confronting it too brusquely with disturbing new concepts.
It is better for the father to instruct the boys. Parents have the grace of state; furthermore, they know or they ought to know how to speak to their children and exactly what to say according to what the child already knows or does not know, according to its impressionability, its probable emotional reaction, its intelligence, its imagination.
The initial instruction must always be strictly individual, never group instruction. Such instruction should be given early enough, in time, but never prematurely.
Rarely should a mass of information be given at once, but nearly always imparted progressively. One must never give any false information, but neither is one obliged to tell all there is to be told at one blow.
Only such knowledge should be given as is necessary to clarify the present difficulty, to satisfy the child’s curiosity at the time. Later when occasion offers to complete the information, it can be completed.
The introduction of the child to the facts of life must be made with simplicity, without excessive preambles and beating about the bush, objectively without clumsiness; they must be presented as something quite natural but explained in an atmosphere of earnestness, dignity and respect.
There must be nothing affected or borrowed in one’s manner or tone, only calmness and a natural everyday voice uncolored by emotionalism.
The child, however, must be made to realize that he has been given no new subject for chatter with his playmates and friends; if there is something he wishes to speak of later regarding his new information or if there is something he does not understand, he will always be able to ask mother or father about it; he should speak to them about it.
A very sensible mother concluded the instructions she gave her little one with these few words:
“What I have just told you is a secret, our secret. Now that you know it, give me your hand and promise me that you will not question other people about it or ever speak to anyone else about it, but only to me.”
A little child will be flattered by such a mark of confidence and being naturally pure will sense the reason for this recommendation as clearly as if it had been expressed.
In addition, if the child is used to living in an atmosphere of filial trust and abandonment, of respect for itself, of training in sacrifice, supernatural generosity, daily contact with the invisible world through prayer and love of God, its instruction will prove singularly easy.
We cannot overemphasize the fact that “training to purity must be set in the framework of a solid all-round training of the will, the conscience, the emotions, the imagination and the whole body.”
To enlighten the child regarding sex will serve for nothing and can even be harmful if it has not first been established in fidelity in the light of spirituality, and in energy of will.
In other words, formal training to purity must be preceded by training pure and simple. It will be possible to speak clearly to a child who lives in an environment that is deeply impregnated with Christianity.
In his tranquil soul, innocent and disciplined as it is, useful initiations can take place with profit and without causing any trouble; his delicate conscience will understand; his refined and mortified emotions will yield readily to the requirements of modesty, and he will not be stimulated to an unhealthy curiosity.
We can change the world within our own families. We do not need heroic deeds, exceptional intelligence or extraordinary talents. Every day, our daily duties, our interactions with our family, our living out the Faith in the small ordinary things, will be the thread that weaves the beautiful rug that future generations will be walking upon and building upon…. Finer Femininity
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An excellent title by Father Barrett:
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