Effective child discipline 2: The age of reason

The second of three articles on discipline, decision-Making, and the four cardinal virtues. The first part is here.

So how do we do help our children mature from within?

Once a child enters the age of reason (around seven years old), we need to start focusing on giving our children internal motivations for obeying and doing what is right. We do this by forming their consciences, training their wills, and turning their hearts towards God so they eventually learn to make the right choices on their own.

When our children are around the age of seven, we need to start appealing to reason. Simply saying, “Do this because I said so,” or “Do this or you will be punished,” is no longer sufficient for them. Children ought to be given the chance to understand the reasoning behind our requests/demands. Of course, there will be many times when they do not understand or agree with our reasoning. In such cases, we will have to settle for external compliance, making them obey even while they disagree. Moreover, explaining to our children the reasons why they need to eat vegetables or floss their teeth is important, but it should not lead to an argument or negotiations. You state your reasons, and if they don’t agree, they have to obey anyways.

Sometimes, no matter how many times you have given your reason, a child may repeatedly ask, “but why?” In such situations, it helps to make your child repeat your reasons. That way, both you and the child know that he/she knows your reasons.

Around the age of nine, many children begin to develop a strong sense of justice. You can observe this in the way children of this age make up games and clubs with their own rules. You can also see it in the way children begin to complain that so-and-so is not being fair. Fairness is a big issue with children in the primary grades. Naturally, this is a time when we can begin to appeal to our children’s sense of fairness, especially when it comes to household chores and sibling quibbling. When a child sees that your request is fair and just, he is more likely to comply without dispute.

Sparky: Why do I have to sweep the floor? That’s not my job!

Mom: You are the one who spilled the rice, so it’s only fair that you sweep it up.

Of course, there will be times when a child cannot or will not see that your request is fair. You can then offer more explanations, but again, don’t open the door to debate or argument. If you see that your appeals to fairness are going nowhere, tell your child you are willing to discuss the issue after he/she has obeyed.

Sparky: Well, last time Princess spilled her food you made me sweep it up. That’s not fair!

Mom: Each child does chores according to his ability. When you were Princess’ age, Feisty swept up your messes. Besides, we don’t only take care of ourselves. We take care of each other, too.

Sparky: Feisty didn’t sweep up my messes.

Mom: Yes, he did. Now sweep the floor. Discussion closed.

Sparky: But- but-

Mom: Discussion closed. We can talk about it more after you sweep the floor.

If you have a choleric, strong-willed child, many times his sense of justice will be outraged when his idea of fairness is pitted against yours. Many children at this age are still ego-centric and so is their sense of fairness. They can only see what is fair from their own limited perspective. When this happens, don’t lose heart. If you stand by your reasons, in time they will come to see the fairness of your decisions, assuming you are as objectively fair as possible and show no favoritism. The point is that you are teaching your children to see beyond their own point of view and to act justly.

Mary Cooney is a home-schooling mother of six who lives in Maryland. Her book, Evangelizing Our Children with Joy, is published by Scepter and available from Amazon as an e-book. Read about it here. The above article is adapted from one published on her blog, Mercy For Marthas.


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