Monday, April 15, 2019

There's No Such Thing as a Bad Boy - Infusing the Language of Virtue Into Conversations With Our Kids

Several years ago our family watched the movie, Boys Town, which has since become a family favorite!  When I heard Fr. Flannagan proclaim, "There is no such thing as a bad boy!" it struck a chord deep within me.

One of the ways we come to know who we are in this world is through the words that others around us speak to us, be they people of influence or mere acquaintances.  Our self-esteem and self-confidence have the potential to be affected and formed by both criticism and compliments, praises and put-downs.

And, while I cannot control the words that others choose to communicate to my children, I can choose to be thoughtful and selective when it comes to the words that I speak to my children, words that I pray will help form their identity as children of God, as sons of a Father who delights in them, who is merciful with them, who has given them special and specific gifts to fulfill all the plans He has for their lives.

What an honor it is to have the opportunity to help form these precious souls! Knowing who we are in the eyes of God and how to navigate this incredibly challenging, yet glorious life he has given us is not an easy task! As a mother, the words I speak into the hearts of my children matter! 

Let's just take a quick T.O. Parenting is hard, no? And we fail, yes? There's ideals and then there's reality.  We can't live the ideal bubble, because that's dumb. But we can't settle for mediocrity either because that's dumber. (Grammar police, shhhhh.) I've got a lot of tally marks in the "Shinnies, I failed again" column.  But we struggle on.  Struggle on with me! We're called to be great parents. Not good parents, great parents. With God's grace we can be great together.

Moving on...

Children need guidance, formation and help knowing what noble and lasting goods to strive for, and how to identify those things which might keep them from rising up to the heights that they are called to (i.e. sin and temptation). Virtue is our tool to teach them that.

Fr. Flannagan's inspiration prompted me to ask the Lord for a way to change the conversation in my home so that the daily exchanges Steve and I have with our sons could become more formative in nature, but not too complex so as hinder the goal for them to be made habitual or natural.

A series of revelations led me to dig into virtues.  

A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, and habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life.

The virtuous person is he who freely practices the good.  So when we teach our children about virtue and encourage them to be virtuous, we are offering them the opportunity to obtain lasting peace and freedom!

I soon found that I could use the ordinary circumstances of everyday life to speak to the boys in a specific way about virtue, to encourage them to strive for virtue, and to ask God for the grace to become more virtuous for His glory.

Virtue allows specificity.  I love this mucho.  Rather than saying you are good or you did well, because those terms are general and lack definition in a child's mind, you speak instead the distinct and expressive language of virtue with them.  

Leading the conversation in this manner reflects to the children who they are in such a positive way - and it gives them a precise goal(s) to strive for when their desire is to overcome a weakness, sin, or negative habit or tendency.  

These terms become a positive identity for them! The language of virtue naturally builds a child up in a healthy, non-superficial way.  It allows room for growth by recognizing the child's shortcomings without shaming them, and offers specific guidance by which the child can set his or her heart and mind to for improvement. 

In essence, for any of us, as we strive for and practice particular virtues, by God's grace, we not only obtain the virtues, but become them! They become who we are!

Conversations on virtue are applicable to all ages, though the intensity and complexity of the conversations have the potential to run deep with the older boys in our family as we discuss more serious issues related to sin, temptation and struggle.

An example of a simple way in which I might converse with our younger sons (ages 3-8) might be:
"Hi Joey! I saw that you put your plate away after lunch today. That was very generous and industrious of you. Great job!" 

Or, if he is neglects his duty:
"Hey, Joey! I can see that you still need to clean your plate from the supper table.  I know you have what it takes to be generous and attentive to your tasks.  Please take care of this for me."

Even though the latter is corrective, both conversations are positive.  Don't get me wrong. There are days when I'm not so smooth, and less that positive words spew out of my mouth. 

Note that one of my offspring is always reliable at that very moment, there to recite the necessary virtues I'm neglecting.

I really love it when their hypocrisy detection genes sparkle. #soproud

With regards to our teenage sons, the virtue conversations build upon the foundational ones we laid when they were younger.  Now we can really dig deeper into such virtues as self-control (chastity), perseverance (sports and academics), and justice (work, school, friendship), along with so many others.

One of the beautiful fruits that has been borne out of seeing our sons obtain particular virtues, is that I am able to use them as a springboard into conversation when they are a little off - struggling, or not acting like themselves.  

For example, if one of the boys is being short-tempered or irritable with Steve and I or his siblings, I can say, "I can see that you are struggling today.  It's not like you to act this way, because (this is the the key) you are a kind person. You are loving and generous and patient.  That is who you are. 

Without a doubt, every single time, our boys respond in a positive way to this.  They are reminded of the good that lies within them, even though they may be feeling terrible, or frustrated, or even angry. 

Remember, feelings pass, virtues stick.  We don't want to shame our kids for their feelings.  Shame suffocates, guilt guides. Guilt is healthy - it's a natural motivator to change or correct or resolve the current negative situation or behavior.  

It's okay for our kids to feel guilty, it's not okay for them to feel ashamed of who they are.

I've learned so much over the past ten years of putting the virtue conversation into practice, that I cannot possibly share it all in one post.  My long term goal is to write a book! (Laugh with me!) I'm not sure if that will ever come to fruition, but for now, I've created a few videos where I dive a little deeper into some of my favorite virtues, and how we speak them into the hearts of our kiddos here at home.

You can view the videos on my Instagram page (just click on the little camera icon above my photo in the right side bar!) beginning in the highlight section which is titled "To the Heights," and continuing in the IGTV link, both are on my bio page.  I apologize for the lack of order in the videos.  I'm not sure why Instagram scrambled them during the upload. 

The virtues covered include:
1. Fortitude
2. Prudence
3. Justice
4. Temperance
5. Generosity
6. Patience
7. Humility
8. Industriousness
9. Attentiveness
10. Perseverance
11. Humility
12. Magnanimity

As  a follow up to this post, I'll be sharing a few of my favorite books that I've leaned on and learned from along the parenting way.  Books that have truly bolstered my motivation to craft positive virtue conversation in our home and to keep it going! 

Please feel free to message me if you have any questions or personal experiences of speaking the language of virtue in your own home that you would like to share with me!

Virtue demands courage, constant effort, 
and above all, help from on high.
- St. John Vianney

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you are having trouble leaving a comment, please feel free to send me an e-mail or leave a response on my Facebook page. Thanks!