The family of fr. Alexander and matushka Maria consists of twelve children and fourteen grandchildren. Their oldest son, Phillip, is a deacon with a history PhD and also works at the Orthodox University. Their oldest daughter, Tatiana, holds a PhD in philology and works at the church Traditional school and the University. Fr. Alexander’s youngest daughter, Olga, attends a specialized mathematical school. All the children live a church life and some are getting a theological education. We asked fr. Alexander to answer some questions about difficult issues that arise in the process of raising children.
– How can parents help their children begin their journey on the difficult path of life?
I think that in order for parents to be able to help their children, they need to, first of all…not be afraid of them. With the first child comes some very serious stress. And if the parents are young, if the child is the very first, they don’t have a clue as to what they should do. As a result of this an inferiority complex (connected with raising the child) develops.
First of all, parents need to love the child. And this love is not a practical, theoretical or emotional concept. It is a steadfast assuredness that you know what you’re doing and you are doing the right things for the child at the right time.
This assuredness is the fruit of spiritual labor. It isn’t simply the result of repetition or theoretical knowledge, but rather the result of a constant spiritual, church life. Only through a spiritual life a person can tap into his innermost reserves of strength, all his qualities, which might have been unknown. With regard to this, I would like to point out the one quality, which has, unfortunately, dropped out of the modern view of life – dignity. Not pride, not vanity and conceit, but rather the steadfast and humble understanding that you are God’s creation, created in His image.
A church life allows this knowledge to become part of the person’s inner world, but not to the point of making him conceited. A person who understands what self-respect and dignity are knows how to behave with dignity in each and every situation – even when it is a very difficult situation. He will surely not be offended by small things and not even by serious insults.
Unfortunately, this kind of dignity is not cultivated in us from childhood, but is rather punished and ignored – and not just by the outside world. Many people don’t even know what it means to be a dignified person and don’t understand what behaving oneself with dignity entails.
Photo by : Anatoliy Danilov
As a result of the Russian revolution, two of the most aristocratic and oldest classes of society were destroyed: aristocrats and peasants. Yes, the peasant is aristocratic by his inner nature.
Boris Shergin, a forgotten Russian author, provides a vivid example of the old concept of dignity.
In the 18th century the Czar’s government official from Moscow comes to Archangelsk. He passes rows of local peasants who are sitting on a log.
«- Hey you, bearded one! – shouts the official.
All of us have beards, – laugh the peasants.
– Which one of you is a craftsman?– asks the official angrily.
-We are all craftsmen in our field,– answer the peasants.
– I want to buy a local toy – a boat!
– Because you don’t understand what respect is, you won’t buy anything, – is what he hears for an answer.
This example is the complete opposite of the modern concept – if someone possesses power and money, others should try to please that person and gain their sympathy.
A true Orthodox person will not grovel and stoop down in front of anyone. And, it should be noticed, that in the aforementioned example the peasants did not stoop down, but at the same time did not discredit or offend the government official.
So, first of all, parents need to cultivate this quality of dignity and self-respect in themselves. And if they encourage this in their children, if they set the example, the children will become true Christians. They will become worthy people and the Christian truths will be the core of their lives, not just knowledge. Because the scariest thing is when a person says one thing, but does another.
– We will touch on an unpleasant topic – how should children be disciplined and punished…is this necessary? How can this be done without harm ?
Punishment is not an unpleasant topic. Punishment is also a type of communication with your child. It can be pleasant and even joyful . A. Makarenko writes that the educator should imitate anger. I interpret this as: “One should get angry a minute before actually getting angry.” Because this means you are controlling yourself and if you are controlling yourself, you know that you still love the child.
– What about corporal punishment ?
Most likely, this will not be needed. Corporal punishment is an extreme measure and is used when the adult cannot control the situation and the child is out of control and does not take to words. The use of corporal punishment indicates an inability on the part of the adult to exert a positive influence upon the child.
Is there a need for punishment? Of course there is, but it needs to be done with benefit for the child, with control. The adult needs to have an inner code so that he or she always knows what can and cannot be done.
In “The Pedagogical Epic” A. Makarenko invites a naughty child to come to his office (the boy broke a window) and starts to arrange for the window to be fixed in front of the child: calls the service people, solves other problems connected with what happened. And thus the boy could come to understand the impact of what he had done.
On the outside, the adult can be emotional, but on the inside… it is imperative to always stay calm. A person was given emotions by God and this is wonderful. However, emotions should not be out guide in life, they should be expressed sensibly.
The punishment of boys and girls should be different. A boy can receive corporal punishment if need be. A girl cannot be touched. She should be untouchable so that when she grows up this feeling of wholeness, of being a protected woman, helps her in her adult life. A boy, on the other hand, can be raised more strictly, but still this depends on the personal characteristics and temperament of the adult and the child. What works for one family will not work for another.
The main thing is to learn to feel the child’s state and feelings. And, also, you should only expect the child to follow concrete directions, one at a time. For instance : “ Come here ”. And only then : “ Give me that spoon , please ”. Instead adults usually say: “Come here and bring me that spoon”. And what is the child supposed to do? He is given two commands at the same time and he cannot combine everything in his mind.
Finally, praise and positive reinforcement is really important. The more – the better. However, the child should also understand that this is reinforcement and not grounds to become presumptuous.
– Now, a question about raising a girl in a single-parent family. How do you show that the man is the leader, how do you help her understand the importance of family? To not think that a single-parent family is normal and good?
This is a very difficult task. A lot depends on what the mother herself is like. In a single-parent family mothers often need double the inner and spiritual reserves. It is quite difficult. It is important for the girl to understand that a complete family is the goal and how wonderful it is.
– What about raising a boy when the father is not a manly and strong figure? What can the mother do to raise a kind, yet strong and responsible man?
First of all, it is important to note that if the wife has a stronger personality, she should still uphold the father’s ultimate authority in the children’s eyes. Blame and reproach, demonstrations of superiority are never alright. Often, if the woman has enough smarts to hold herself back and let the dad do his job, he will
And as far as the child, it’s important to give him a good education, opportunities to do sports, other extra-curricular activities, looking for the kinds of things which will allow him to express his nature.
– We got this question: What should be done when children don’t have respect for their mother? When they can hit her or be aggressive .
First of all, if the mother allows the child to hit her, this mother is not very smart. Everything has its roots in the past. When the child was very small, he could hit his mom, but this was not taken seriously. Yet these moments should also be watched for and stopped once and for all. This will need repetition in the future, but it will already be cemented as an action that is not appropriate.
– A nine-year old checks others’ pockets. What can be done?
This is an age-related phenomenon; it’s a typical problem for this age. As in any educational process, precision and consistency are imperative. It is important to not lose respect for the child. The problem can be helped with adult guidance and sensitivity.
The attitude towards pocket-picking should, of course, should always be the same – negative. However, it is also important for the child to understand this on his own.
Unfortunately, not much will change after one time. The problem will have to be dealt with numerous times for true change to happen.
It is possible to punish the child, to take something away (for instance, sweets), to give a time-out. However, it is also important for the adult to stay calm and composed. As the apostle Paul said: “Let not the sun set in your anger”. Be angry, but the sun of your love for the child should always shine regardless of what he or she does.
– How can it be explained to the child that it’s not right to pick up others’ things, money?
It’s better not to come up and not to touch. On our website we publish war stories. Two completely different people who went through the war have the same opinions on others’ things.
The first, professor Juravlev told about his father who, when seeing him off to war, said: “Make sure not to take anything from anyone. Even if it is a watch off of a dead man’s wrist. Because then he will come and kill you ”.
Another man came back from the front lines of the war and didn’t bring anything back with him. His family asked him about this, because it was a hungry and difficult time. To this he answered: “I am sure that if I took something, I would be killed”.
So in other words, children need a kind of ideal set for them. Many adults don’t consider the fact that children understand a lot more than we tend to think. Even with a very small child, one should always speak with a calm, firm and loving tone. The child understands and responds to this. This kind of treatment will imprint itself in the child’s mind and will be a guide for him or her during later life.
– Please explain what the dangers of kindergarten are for the child – besides more frequent illnesses.
First of all, it’s a completely different environment, with its own ideals and expectations. Modern education is , more often than not , moral corruption . If it ’ s on t . v ., then it ’ s okay . Peers bully each other, brag and boast to each other. It’s hard for a child to withstand these influences, to remain wholesome.
In Soviet times and in the times of the Czar, school kids were always in uniforms. Why ? Because then there was no difference between the rich and the poor kids. These uniforms were aesthetically pleasing and well-sewn. So everyone looked good and no one had reason to brag.
– But the child will, sooner or later, have to face these problems…
Better later than sooner, because then he will be more mature and ready to cope. Of course, it’s also important for the family to have more than one child. Because if a child is always alone, he won’t have the socialization and on the other hand, if there are some brothers and sisters, he will need to help them, care for them. Finally, he is not alone so he can have more fun in the family.
– A lazy child doesn’t want to do his homework and the mother says: “If you do your homework, you can go watch T.V.” What would you say to this?
This mother is following the path of least resistance. If from an early age the child learns to expect television as a reward, his soul becomes trashed and demoralized and in later adult life he also expects material and perhaps immoral rewards.
It’s important to sit down with the child and do the homework together – to help and explain. It’s important to participate in his life, to teach him how to do homework well and quickly. Of course you can say that the child will get something after doing his homework, but this needs to be something that the child likes and that’s healthy for him. If the reward is television – that ’ s not right .
– Father, how much freedom can be given to the child and from what age? Some psychologists say that until a certain age, children can’t be told “no”.
The child needs to soak in the word “no” with his mother’s milk: calmly, firmly, with love. The main reason is for the safety of the child. It’s simply important to know with confidence what is appropriate and what is not. That is what educating and bringing up the child entails: setting a framework. And the clearer this framework is – the better. On the other hand, if there is no framework, the child will have a hard time; he won’t know what to do.
Also, if everything goes, then there is no “bad”. Then, “me wish is my command.” And this is a crisis situation.
– What about grandmothers who give grandchildren money?
– My wife had a godmother – a wonderful woman. She knew how to show her gratitude from the bottom of her heart, with such warmth that you wanted to do something else for her just to deserve some of that gratitude again.
It’s very easy to just give some money. Never before in our traditional system of upbringing was this normal and everyone knew full-well how money was earned. Money just had more significance.
– An eight-year old child asks why he should pray to God. It’s not difficult to pray, but why? …
– Because God is Almighty and ready to help. God is kind and listens to you. Do you have difficulties ? Ask him and He will resolve everything . If you receive help – then thank God .
– Isn’t there the danger of the child asking something and not receiving?
– Of course there is . The author Korolenko describes a great situation from his childhood. He was eight years old. A person with dentures came to visit. Korolenko really wanted dentures and prayed for them, but God did not answer this prayer.
– So then isn’t it incorrect to tell the child “pray to God and your prayer will be answered”? Because not all of our prayers are answered ….
– It’s important to teach the child to look at some things as a “given”. This is done with love, with a truly loving attitude towards the child so that he doesn’t feel he is incomplete because he doesn’t have something. In our church we have two kids who have Down syndrome, but their mothers love them so much…Even physicians say that love can compensate and help treat an illness. These sorts of difficult issues with children can only be resolved with true love.