Teaching our Children Temperance


By Dr Gerard Gaskin, Director of Catholic Education Tasmania

In Issue 7 of the Catholic Standard, we noted that a life of temperance, of seeking just enough and not too much gives us the desire, the skills and the strength to serve others – before we serve ourselves.

How do we help our children to learn this?

For many centuries, long before screens started to compete in educating our children, it was fables and stories of wonder and mystery that occupied a child’s life. Aesop’s fables taught moral lessons to the very young. The Tortoise and the Hare: Never Give Up, The Dog and the Shadow: Be happy With What You Have, The Gnat and the Bull: You’re Probably Not That Important.

Hans Christian Anderson too, wrote tales of human wisdom and virtue. He gave us The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Nightingale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Red Shoes, The Princess and the Pea, The Snow Queen, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Match Girl, and Thumbelina. These stories and fables all taught virtue. They began the education of our young in temperance. We would do well to revisit these with our children and grandchildren.

The Gospel in particular, and all of Sacred Scripture, contains the richest stories and messages for our lives. These were provided by God to teach us all that He wished us to make our own. Let these be the stories that we read to our children, even before they learn to speak. Help them to treasure their own illustrated children’s Bible. Re-tell these Bible stories often. Help them to learn to read using the Holy Bible. Their young minds will absorb and remember the central messages that God wanted them to know.

The essential and foundational principle of temperance is prudence. Being temperate means making prudent decisions that help us to manage all our appetites.

Our children learn by example, but also by reflecting on their actions. For a child, a painfully full tummy is the sign that they have probably over-eaten. The wise parent seizes just that moment of discomfort to suggest that, “next time, maybe you could eat a little less.”  As parents, we are offered many teaching moments with our children. We serve them well by making the most of every opportunity to help them understand the value of temperance.

One day, when my youngest son was angrily wielding his toy sword, a little too close to his sisters and brothers, I took the opportunity to talk about why knights carried swords, how they were used to defend the weaker and more vulnerable. I appealed to his sense of nobility, justice and heroism. The moment was right, and the message had a lasting impact. He’s now an adult and still talks about it today. Childhood is a wonderful time – a providential gift that we parents must use wisely.

St Ignatius taught us that the first seven years are the most important in the lifelong education of the child. Let us seize every opportunity to help them to grow in virtue.

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