Few people receive the quality guidance that is required to raise a child. As a result, we invariably end up transferring our own subconscious deficiencies (inertia, addictions, indiscipline) onto our children. The Sri Aurobindo Society has published a booklet “How to bring up a child” on this crucially important topic, bringing together insights from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa along with anecdotes and stories from other people and places. These are some snippets from that book.
When planning for a year, plant corn.
When planning for a decade, plant trees.
When planning for life, train and educate people.
To Educate a child is to Educate Oneself
With very few exceptions, parents are not aware of the disastrous influence that their own defects, impulses, weaknesses and lack of self-control have on their children. If you wish to be respected by a child, have respect for yourself and be worthy of respect at every moment. Never be authoritarian, despotic, impatient or ill-tempered. When your child asks you a question, do not give him a stupid or silly answer under the pretext that he cannot understand you. You can always make yourself understood if you take enough trouble; and in spite of the popular saying that it is always good to tell the truth, I affirm that it is always good to tell the truth, but that the art consists in telling it in such a way as to make it accessible to the mind of the hearer. In early life, until he is twelve or fourteen, the child’s mind is you can train it to understand these things by using concrete images, symbols or parables. Up to quite an advanced age narrative, a story, a tale well told teach much more that any number of theoretical explanations.
(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 12, pp 9-11)
The worst of all (which men usually do) is to leave their children with servants. It is a crime. For these people have an altogether vulgar consciousness, altogether low, altogether obscure; and quite spontaneously, without wanting to do so, they let it enter the children. Naturally, there is also the age when children are put to school and there they begin to come in contact with a host of children who are not always very much to be recommended. It is very difficult to escape these relations. But all the same, if one has started life with a little consciousness and much goodwill, when one meets people who are not desirable company, one feels it. And if one is good-willed, immediately one tries not to see them or not to be with them.
(Collected Works of the Mother, vol.5, pp. 413-14)
Freedom essential for growth
There are all kinds of different and even opposite theories. Some people say, “Children must be left to have their own experience because it is through experience that they learn things best.” Like that, as an idea, it is excellent; in practice it obviously requires some reservations, because if you let a child walk on the edge of a wall and he falls and breaks a leg or his head, the experience is a little hard; or if you let him play with a match-box and he burns out his eyes, you understand, it is paying very dearly for a little knowledge! I have discussed this with… I don’t remember now who it was… an educationist, a man concerned with education, who had come from England, and had his ideas about the necessity of an absolute liberty. I made this remark to him; then he said, “But for the love of liberty one can sacrifice the life of many people.” It is one opinion.
At the same time, the opposite excess of being there all the time and preventing a child from making his experiment, by telling him, “Don’t do this, this will happen”, “Don’t do that, that will happen” – then finally he will be all shrunk up into himself, and will have neither courage nor boldness in life, and this too is very bad.
In fact it comes to this: One must never make rules. Every minute one must endeavour to apply the highest truth one can perceive. It is much more difficult, but it’s the only solution.
Never to scold
A child should never be scolded. I am accused of speaking ill of parents! but I have seen them at work, you see, and I know that ninety per cent of parents snub a child who comes spontaneously to confess a mistake: “You are very naughty. Go away, I am busy” – instead of listening to the child with patience and explaining to him where his fault lies, how he ought to have acted. And the child, who had come with good intentions, goes away quite hurt, with the feeling: “Why am I treated thus?” Then the child sees his parents are not perfect – which is obviously true of them today – he sees that they are wrong and says to himself: “Why does he scold me, he is like me!”
(Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 4,p.28.vol.12,p.11)
To hit the children – all blows are forbidden, even the slightest little slap or the so-called friendly punch. To give a blow to a child because he does not obey or does not understand or because he is disturbing the others indicates a lack of self-control, and it is harmful for both teacher and student.
Disciplinary measures may be taken if necessary, but in complete calm and not because of a personal reaction.
When children cry for things
Question: Sweet Mother, why do some children have the habit of always asking for things? Material things, like sweets, everything they see…
Mother: Oh, because they are full of desires. They were probably formed with vibrations of desires, and as they have no control over themselves it is expressed freely. Older people are also full of desires, but usually they have a kind of… how do we call it?… They are a little shy of showing their desires or they feel a bit ashamed or perhaps are afraid they will be laughed at; so they don’t show them. Well, they too are full of desires. Only children are more simple. When they want something they say so. They don’t tell themselves that perhaps it would be wiser not to show this, because they don’t yet have this kind of reasoning. But I think, generally speaking, with very few exceptions, that people live in perpetual desires. Only, they don’t express them, and sometimes they are ashamed also to acknowledge it to themselves. But it is there, this need of having something… you know, one sees something pretty, it is immediately translated into a desire for possession; and this is one of the things… it is absolutely childish. It is childish and indeed it is ridiculous, because at least ninety times out of a hundred, when the one who had a desire for something possesses it, he doesn’t even look at it any longer. It is very rarely that this thing continues to interest him once he has it, whatever the nature of the object.
Question: Sweet Mother, how can we help a child to come out of this habit of always asking?
Mother: There are many ways. But first of all you must know whether you will not just stop him from freely expressing what he thinks and feels. Because this is what people usually do. They scold, even sometimes punish him; and so the child forms the habit of concealing his desires. But he is not cured of them. And you see, if he is always told, “No, you won’t have that”, then., simply, this state of mind gets settled in him: “Ah, when you are small, people don’t give you anything! You must wait till you are big. When I am big I shall have all that I want.” That’s how it is. But this does not cure them. It is very difficult to bring up a child. There is a way which consists in giving him all he wants; and naturally, the next minute he will want something else, because that’s the law, the law of desire: never to be satisfied. And so, if he is intelligent, one can tell him, “But you see, you insisted so much on having this and now you no longer care for it. You want something else.” Yet if he was very clever he would answer, “Well, the best way of curing me is to give me what.
“Some people cherish this idea all their life. When they are told that they should overcome their desires, they say, “The easiest way is to satisfy them.” This kind of logic seems impeccable. But the fact is that it is not the object desired that has to be changed, it is the impulse of desire, the movement of desire. And for this a great deal of knowledge is needed, and this is difficult for a very young child.
It is difficult. Indeed, they don’t have the capacity for reasoning; one can’t explain things to them, because they don’t understand the reasons. So you see, when it is like that the parents usually tell the child, “Keep quiet, you area nuisance!” In this way they get out of the difficulty. But this is no solution. It is very difficult. It asks for a sustained effort and an unshakable patience. Some people are like that all their life; they are like babies throughout their existence and it is impossible to make them see reason. As soon as one tells them that they are not reasonable and that one can’t all the time be giving them things to satisfy their desires, they simply think, “These people are unpleasant. This person is not nice.” That’s all.
In fact, perhaps one should begin by shifting the movement to things which it is better to have from the true point of view, and which it is more difficult to obtain. If one could turn this impulsion of desire towards a… For example, when a child is full of desires, if one could give him a desire of a higher kind – instead of its being a desire for purely material objects, you understand, an altogether transitory satisfaction – if one could awaken in him the desire to know, the desire to learn, the desire to become a remark- able person… in this way, begin with that. As these things are difficult to do, so, gradually, he will develop his will for these things. Or even, from the material point of view, the desire to do something difficult, as for example, construct a toy which it is difficult to make – or give him a game of patience which requires a great deal of perseverance.
True value of a person
I was helping to look after one of the first boardings which was started by the Mother. One day, during dinner, one of the boys proclaimed very proudly that his father always travelled in style, only ‘first class.’ I told the Mother about this the following day. The Mother asked me what had been my response.I replied that I had simply ignored it. But she said that I ought not to have done that and added that, when the opportunity arose, I should call the children together and explain to them that worldly wealth is of no importance; only the wealth that has been offered to the Divine has a value. You do not become big by living in big houses, travelling by first class and spending money lavishly. You increase in stature only by being truthful, sincere, obedient, grateful and by serving the Divine.
Table of contents
- The Child – A Soul Meant To Grow
- Education Begins Before Birth
- To Educate a Child is to Educate Oneself
- For a Body Fit to Manifest Beauty
- Food and the Body’s Needs
- Importance of Sleep
- Respect Health and Cleanliness
- Sports and Sportsmanship
- Teacher – A Living Example – Personality Traits of a Successful Teacher
- To Teach in the Right Way
- The Finest Present One Can Give to a Child
- Freedom Essential for Growth
- Little Children are Wonderful
- Learning More and Always More
- Never to Scold
- To Find the Inner Truth
- When Children Play with Swords and Pistols
- Some Reminiscences
- Thou art That
- Father Flanagan’s Toughest Customer
- The Gift of Understanding
There are other books available on the topic of children’s education. Click on the image of these books seen below to go the SABDA catalog entry.
- How to choose the right life partner
- When does the soul enter the body?
- Raising a child prodigy
- The rationale behind vegetarianism
- Spirituality : between morality and immorality
- The foundation of spiritual relationships
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on Astrology
- True family and True country
- How to make the right choice when faced with a serious decision
- Why bad things happen to good people
- Right attitude towards money
- True intent of the caste system