COLUMBIA — The parent-child relationship, with all its joys and difficulties, is a wonderful chance for both to receive the fullness of God’s grace.
That was the main message at a recent question-and-answer session offered June 17 at St. Peter Church by George Holmes, Ph.D. He is a Catholic who teaches in the neuropsychiatry and behavioral science department at the University of South Carolina. He was chief of child and adolescent psychology at the William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute for the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
It was the second in a series of two free programs on parenting and child development at the parish. The initial lecture in May provided information on topics ranging from infancy to rebellious teenagers.
The follow-up session allowed parents to ask questions on their personal issues. Those who attended asked to remain anonymous.
One woman wanted to know the Catholic Church’s stance on the proper way to discipline a child. Holmes said there have been no specific recent writings from popes or other prominent clergy on the subject, but said to consider the church’s teachings on the dignity and worth of every human.
“The least amount of physical and emotional control you can use to get results, the better,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a specifically Catholic approach to discipline except stressing the importance of dignity and caring.”
Holmes said parents must be authoritative and set limits for children, but also maintain a balance so they have room to be creative and develop their own perspectives and personalities.
“If you attend to a child when they’re doing something positive, you’re in good shape,” he said. “If you’re always on the child in an angry and threatening way, you’re going to end up running a prison. It’s important to celebrate the child’s positive behavior. We compliment other people and often don’t compliment our children. People think behavior flows one way, but it goes two ways. The child shapes the parent and the parent shapes the child.”
Another woman was concerned about a 5-year-old who was extremely competitive and became upset over losing. Holmes said hyper-competitiveness is a characteristic of today’s culture.
He said there is too little emphasis on the importance of effort these days. Some parents push their children to succeed at all costs, he said, while others raise children to think they should be given whatever they want without trying their best.
“The culture today is one of entitlement. Kids want to be rewarded for as little effort as possible,” he said.
He advised the woman to make sure her child feels accepted and loved no matter what happens on a day-to-day basis, and to diminish the amount of competition in daily family life.
“We need to show our children we’re all in this together,” he said.
Holmes reminded the parents that “every child that comes into the world has a different temperament,” just as parents do, and it’s not a bad thing if each parent approaches his or her duties in a different way.
“Differing styles can work with different children,” he said.
The important thing, he stressed, is that children feel cherished and secure. This feeling comes not through material gain, but simple actions.
“St. Ignatius said love is not known by words but by deeds,” he said. “Healthy families doing simple things together — like a child learning to cook hot dogs with grandpa and grandma outside — provides very positive experiences for the child.”