“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
These days, I keep hearing a phrase: Gentle Parenting. It’s a method of parenting presented as the cutting-edge new way to parent your children.
What Makes a Better Parent?
Last summer, I read a book on Danish parenting, which led to reading books on Montessori parenting. That led to reading up on Waldorf education.
Sometime later, my sister sent me an article about St. John Bosco and jokingly said, “John Bosco used Danish parenting.”
Not that he actually used this method, but the style that he used to teach the boys at his school, including his protégée St. Dominic Savio, seemed shockingly similar. After all, it’s a little bit Danish, a little Montessori, a little bit of every good parenting technique that you can find in a book.
Don Bosco’s Preventive System
St. John Bosco shared his teaching style and vision for forming young people with St. Mary Mazzarello. Together they co-founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. However, that work, and its success are topics for another day.
But what I discovered about St. John Bosco is that he was strongly opposed to striking his students. He also saw that disciplining or correcting them in any way while still being angry was counterproductive. His insight was that his students might attribute their punishment to his anger rather than their actions. If the child needed to be corrected, the saint insisted that any penalty be in private to avoid the scandal of his peers witnessing his reprimand. Beyond his strong belief in rules and discipline, he loved his boys dearly.
St. John Bosco said, “Without confidence and love, there can be no true education. If you want to be loved…you must love yourselves and make your children feel that you love them.”
Last year my girls started a new Catechism class at our church. Upon enrolling them, I was thrilled to find out it was a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium class. I had had friends and family members whose children attended Atrium classes. I had always hoped to have my girls attend one but had never been a part of a parish that offered them.
I had the good luck to become an assistant teacher to my younger daughter’s class and, with that, the ability to watch firsthand every week the teacher’s methods.
I remember watching online videos about Atrium catechism classes and seeing the children working quietly and independently. I remember thinking to myself, “how did they get these children to act this well behaved?”
Enter a Place for You
Getting to see it firsthand, it all made sense. The teachers had extensively trained to change how they taught, even how they spoke to the children. Their voices were soft and quiet. Every table, chair, and shelf were child-sized. The whole room and everything in it were there for the children. They felt as if they belonged. What a beautiful gift it is to enter a place for you.
The teachers were quiet, patient, and gentle in that classroom, and the little children followed their example.
As I read about John Bosco, images and examples of Jesus bringing people to the Father throughout the New Testament kept popping into my mind. Jesus didn’t come into the world making Himself known by yelling and chastising. He embraced the wayward like the father welcoming his prodigal son.
“But thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalms 86:15
The “gentle parenting” trend isn’t new. It’s quite literally as old as time.