Year two of pandemic schooling is about to wrap up. The experience has exposed where children’s education really lies: at home.
Not to take away from the effort and care our teachers have had to put in, especially in learning new ways to teach and be engaging online, but the home-and-school partnership has always been stressed even pre-COVID, and is even more felt now.
“No fair! My friend’s mom allows him to play video games all day!” is a common retort I hear.
Kids may go to the same school, but values vary. “Different rules in different families,” I tiredly shoot back. Again.
I revisited my notes from the last in-person parents’ Lenten recollection I attended in my kids’ school in 2019. Fr. Ian Gabinete spoke about “Living Jesus in Our Families: Shepherding Our Children.”
Fr. Gabinete acknowledged several types of families: nuclear, extended, single parent, blended and adoptive. This variety alone ensures differences in family rules.
But what unites us is that “Christian parents are living images of the Good Shepherd in the family,” he said. “You are not just feeding people; you are forming individuals.”
He discussed how parents can shepherd children through top issues plaguing the youth, like separated parents, academic pressures, death of a loved one and handling romantic relationships (Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines’ Students’ Congress, 2019).
Other threats abound, such as psycho-emotional issues, pressures from school, home, and society, and social media.
Abuses (sexual, substance, physical and verbal) need brave confrontation. Sadly, what is usually advised to children is “lumayo ka na lang” (stay away) or other forms of victim blaming. Fr. Gabinete said that this affects the child negatively, if the child is not believed. Issues must be discussed, painful as it may be.
Then, there are confusing moral norms. “Dishonesty and murder are justified, and there are too many gray areas. As long as you’re able to give excuses, you remain inculpable of all the bad things you do,” he noted. “But don’t allow yourselves to be distorted. Panindigan mo ang iyong pananampalataya (Stand up for your faith). Don’t have double standards like ‘cafeteria Catholics’ who only consume what they like.”
In the Philippines, only 55 percent of millennials are Christians; a third is not affiliated with any religion. In the 2019 Letter of the Youth to the Church in the Philippines: “Our apparent distrust on the credibility of the Church is but an expression of a burning desire for us to see her truly living.”
How do we fight these threats? Fr. Gabinete suggested we provide them heroes with joyful discipleship to nurture values, develop virtues and enrich faith. He cited psychologist Erik Erikson, who said that children are observant—whatever they observe is retained in their consciousness. Children need to be touched, hugged and kissed to have real experiences of affection.
Respond to their needs
In infancy, during feeding, they learn to trust or mistrust you. Develop the virtue of hope by responding to their needs and the parental virtue of sensitivity to their needs. These dynamics continue through adulthood.
In early childhood (2-3 years old), during potty training, they will either learn independence or shame and doubt. Develop their will with the parental virtue of patience. Be mindful of the words you use and your reactions. Allow them to make choices in life but also make them aware of the boundaries and possible consequences. Make the time to explain to them.
Preschool (3-5 years old) is time for exploration, and they learn to take initiative or feel guilt (depending on your reaction). Let them have a sense of purpose by nurturing the parental virtue of being understanding.
For school-age kids (6-11 years old), going to school is when they experience being away from you.
Here, they learn either industry or inferiority. Encourage competency with the parental virtue of affirmation.
“Seven out of 10 children have no dreams or goals in life. Even college students don’t know what course they want to pursue. Or, they have a course, but it’s not what they want. It’s not their goal, but their parents’ choice,” said Fr. Gabinete.
In a sports competition, if your child gets hurt, allow your child to cry. Then ask, “Will you continue this? You have a choice.” They shouldn’t feel forced or be bribed or threatened. “You are not taking care of robots. They have their own will and choices to make. Don’t pattern them after yourselves. They are unique.”
He added that like us, our children yearn for the same things: love, good work and great friends. They need foundations of honesty and sincerity, authentic companions along the way and simplicity in a world of complexity.