I’m no prude: teaching the virtue of prudence

By Dr Gerard Gaskin, Director of Catholic Education Tasmania

A person I knew was once deeply offended because a professional colleague had described her as prudent. “I’m no prude,” she declared indignantly, thinking that she had been accused of being prudish: dour, disapproving, and anti-fun. However, once she had unpacked the difference between being prudish and being prudent, she felt quite flattered instead.

The prudent person is wise in practical affairs, provides for the future, exercises caution in practical matters and uses their discretion. Prudence is never illogical or capricious, it relies on the use of reason.

Reason helps us make sense of things by using logic. So, the virtue of prudence grows as we use reason and logic to assimilate new information.

Our children are not usually born with an abundance of prudence. Because it is a virtue that needs to grow with age and experience, they need to learn and practice prudence every day.

So, how do we learn prudence and how do we teach wisdom to our children? We all know that we can’t put old heads on young shoulders. However, the very heart of prudence is being able to reasonably anticipate the consequences of our actions.

Here are three ways we can confidently begin to teach prudence to pre-schoolers.

ONE: Children, even the very young, can be amazingly logical. Quite young children are very capable of following simple logical arguments and very often use them with devastating effect with adults.

Just try refusing a four-year-old something they really want. The steady chorus of, “but why?” and, “that’s not fair,” and “how come she got one?” reminds parents and teachers of the relentless logic that children can and do apply when they want to.

So, we don’t have to wait for our primary-aged children to reach secondary school before we able to teach prudence.

TWO: From the earliest years of language, we can encourage even our youngest to consider the consequences of their actions.

We can also help them reflect on their recent behaviours, and to encourage their natural sense of logic. In this way, by looking back and judging their past behaviours we can teach our children to look forward; to begin to modify their future behaviours.

THREE: Indeed, if we, as parents and teachers, try always to model the example of the virtue of prudence this will have a powerful effect on the children we care about.

If we gently remind them to think before they act, and always to consider the needs of others as well as their own, we are helping them to lay down deep foundations for their own prudence to grow upon.

We teach children virtue by word and example. The more evident our virtue the more they will learn from us.

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