Excerpts on the Upbringing and Education of Children from:
Talks with Father Paisios
By Athanasios Rakovalis
Elder at what point does a parent's obligation to his children end?
First of all, one should give them a good, christian upbringing. This is the most important provision for their life. Afterwards, it's good to educate them adequately. If they want to proceed to the university, do post-graduate work, one should help them, or else they should learn a skill. [A parent] should help them, that is, to be able to support themselves.
Elder, the child of an acquaintance of mine is constantly naughty, he shouts and hits others. What is to blame? What should he do?
Look, the children are not to blame. Today they have closed them up in apartment buildings and they don't have an area to run, to play. The children are pressured. They can't move, they haven't got outlets for their energy. They go crazy and hit their heads against the wall! For children to grow naturally, they need a yard!”
In other words elder, children living in apartment buildings develop psychological problems?
Well, if they are constrained and pressured. It is much better for them to have a yard! It's more natural.
You see, a house which has children who are all in perfect order, is not good. It means they are using army-like discipline, there is fear in the souls of the children. It is better for the mother to occupy herself with the upbringing of her children, to speak to them, to read to them about the saints and about Christ, rather than occupying herself with orderliness and lifeless things.
Today people are dizzy. The poor children are knocked about with various theories. Later on they become fearful, anxious, and they turn to narcotics and amusements. These secular amusements, however, add to their anxiety. From this life one experiences, to a certain degree, hell; or paradise if he lives according to God's will in the church.
Elder, today the children are pressured a lot, they're weighed down with lessons, and must learn two foreign languages as well.
And they don't even learn ancient greek!!
Yes, exactly! Must they learn English and German as well? What is a good compromise?
Well, the child could learn a language.. he should learn as much as he can, he could even learn five languages, but it must be without pressure, though.
Elder Paisios once said to a teacher:
When you have your own children you'll understand your students at school better.
When one loves children and scolds them with kindness, the children accept it and understand it! Teachers are like grocers, when they are young, they take a long time to balance the scales, whereas after they have become experienced, 2 or 3 seeds and they are able to bring the scale to balance.
Antipathies should not develop in the soul of the teacher in relation to his students. Even when they make one's life difficult, the teacher should realize that he is to blame. In other words, the teacher eventually pays for those things which he did in the past.
We must control the children, but softly. Look, I tied up my tomatoes with ribbons. If I had tied them with wire, what would have happened? Wouldn't they have been wounded?
Elder, should we spank our children when they are unruly?
Should you spank them? A lot or a little? (He laughed).
Look, fear is a restraint and spares the child from many things, when he doesn't understand. Let's say that a child likes to go up high on a chair. He doesn't sense the danger. If he gets a little spanking from his mother, when he again wants to climb up, he will look to the right and left to see, 'Do they see me?' and if no one sees him, he will remember the spanking he received and will restrain himself. 'I'd rather not get another spanking' he will say, and so fear becomes a restraint, and spares infants from many things.
When, however, children begin to understand, we must sit down with them and patiently explain things they can understand.
Today many Christian families are also to blame. “I'm alright.” they say, “I keep my children under control, unlike the children in the world, and I have peace of mind.” The question is not whether or not they kept them under control, even more than they should have perhaps, but what were their motives in controlling them? If they did it our of fear to sin, to spare them from hell, out of fear of God, God helps them and the child does not suffer anything. If, however, they did it out of egotism, well then God doesn't help.. so that the parents might be corrected.
A person should love his parents, should respect them. Today they say “no respect,” this is the status quo. There are others who don't care about their children. They agree with whatever bad thing their children want, to make them happy, to be popular with their children, by doing this they have destroyed everything.
Young children, when they read the Lives of the Saints are greatly benefitted. As a result of their simplicity, they have a lot of faith. In this way they cultivate good habits. When one begins the spiritual life from a young age, even from elementary school, he has the most joyous life. This is because, while young, he is free of worldly cares. He also develops good habits and continues in them. I had my best years when I was young. I soared high during fifth and sixth grades at elementary school. Afterwards, when one gets a little older, the healthy concerns begin: what will I become, what will I study, etc. Until 1940 when the war began with the Italians, I was 16 years old, I spent the best years of my life. Afterwards, the war ruined things. We had difficulties.
* * *
Some children are smart, mature for their age. They are also brave. They want to keep company with older children, because they are mature for their age. If they happen to keep company with good children, they are benefited. If, however, they fall into the company of unruly children, they are greatly harmed. Young children are harmed more by older children and indiscretionate adults. This is because they are curious and they go to hear what the adults are saying. They hear ugly things and are harmed.
It is better for one to keep company with people of the same age or with younger people, so that the one does not get harmed and so that he may further benefit the younger ones. All of my friends were younger than I. Afterwards, when they got a little older, they also abandoned me and made fun of me. I pressured them a bit in the fasts; their mothers would shout at them, "don't go around with him. He will make you consumptive". When they were young, they were happy that they had someone older with them.
Afterwards, what could I do? I began being hypocritical. I made friends with people my own age. They made slingshots, so did I. They shot at the target. I also shot. I killed a bird or two. Hold on now, I said, what's going on? When my younger brother had killed a little bird, I spanked him.. and I took the bird and buried it. And now I am killing? So I abandoned them.
Afterwards, I took the lives of the saints and went into the forest. I read, I prayed, I ascended onto a rock to be like the stylites. I had eaten in the morning, my stomach was full. When hunger started to bother me, I would tell myself to get down before becoming exhausted. The ascent is easier than the descent, because when you go down, you don't see.
Fr. Paisios told me:
When from a young age a child becomes filled with Christ, goes to Church with his parents, communes, chants, prays – later on when he gets older, leaves home and ends up possibly in an unfavorable environment, it's not difficult for him. It's like wood which has been drenched in linseed oil. Afterwards it doesn't absorb rain, and it is protected by the oil, I won't take on water, it repels it.
Excerpts from Talks with Father Paisios
By Athanasios Rakovalis, english edition translated by Fr. Nicholas Palis, published in Thessaloniki 2000, distributed by Orthodox Kypseli Publications (Greece) and St.Nikodemos the Hagiorite Publication Society (North America)