Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Understanding Child Development

As part of Family Honor’s mission, we are constantly looking for ways to help parents and children communicate, understand each other and form healthy, happy, holy families. One of the ways we try to do this is through our DVD-based training course for adult men and women, The Principles of Teaching Family-Centered Chastity Education . Significant portions of the course are devoted to topics such as fertility appreciation, theology of the body, effective communication, theories of child development and family life. Below are separate excerpts from the sections of the course on Child Development and also Childhood Needs, Obstacles and Help.

John Gardner and Child Development

One of the course’s required readings is the article “The Opportunity of Adolescence” by John Gardner. His essay on the challenge and opportunity of adolescence mirrors Freud’s thought. Gardner says two polar powers are in conflict in adolescence – the desire to join, combine and become one with another and the desire to distinguish oneself – stand apart and “fashion the gift” – to bring oneself to birth. Until a young person can sound his or her own clear note, the individual is unable to discover the soul that matches his own.

Gardner proposes that the best preparation for this stage of adolescence is a family life and school environment where instruction is directed toward how to love- knowing what it means to be a loving person and practicing loving acts.

According to Gardner, in puberty, chastity or continence is not repression or suspended animation, but growth, flowering, bearing fruit. Chastity slays the disordered desire to serve self so that the transcendent, mysterious, supernatural phenomenon of our sexuality can come to its fullest expression in pure love that brings life, peace, and joy into human lives.

Impure expressions of sexual desire remain impure. Marriage doesn’t sanctify impure sex because it has not been transformed by love – a sincere gift of self and the receiving of the gift of the other.

Adolescents who learn chastity are happier, more active, healthier and more creative. Sexual activity before this readiness for a covenant relationship has occurred can become exploitation, with the consequence of diminished vitality, despair and loss of hope in the power of sex.

Materialistic sex education makes sex utilitarian – reasonably used for maximum self-gratification – and limits sex to an activity that gives pleasure, like eating or recreation. It misses the mystery, the transforming and transcendental power of this God given gift.

Needs, Obstacles and Help During the Three Stages of Childhood and Adolescence

Middle Years – Sexual Awareness – Is my body good? What is the meaning of my body?

Need – The child’s need at this stage is to continue to have a positive body image and ask questions about fertility, conception, pregnancy and childbirth. The beginning of puberty takes precedence toward the end of this stage and the child begins to wonder about changes in his or her body and the meaning of sexuality. The child’s need is met when a parent anticipates the child’s readiness and provides information as well as values that communicate the goodness of sexuality.

Obstacle – An obstacle may be a parent who has a sense of shame about his or her own body or is uncomfortable talking to her child and leaves the task of communication about sexuality to another adult.

Help – A parent who is uncomfortable talking with his child or answering questions can increase his comfort level and confidence through educational resources, or seek out a program he can attend or work through with his child.

Needs, Obstacles and Help During the Three Stages of Childhood and Adolescence

Middle Years – Moral Development – How can I be good?

Need – The middle years are a critical time for conscience formation and character development in the child. Children need to begin to learn and practice virtue as well as well as be nurtured in the beliefs, values and moral code of the family, school, and church. This is the time when children ask and begin to answer the questions, “How can I be a good son or daughter?”; “How can I be a good school citizen?”; “How can I be a good person?” This need is met when a child is praised for being truthful, patient, responsible, hard-working, kind, brave or for any virtuous behavior.

Obstacles – Obstacles to moral formation may be lack of guidance or mixed and confusing messages from adults who have the most influence. A child whose nature is strong-willed or risk-taking may often find himself in trouble and have difficulty seeing himself as a good school citizen, son or person. Unmet needs from the early years for security, competence or separation may delay moral development.

Help – Most importantly, children need positive relationships with parents, teachers, church leaders and other adults who are role models of good character. Parents can take many opportunities to teach their beliefs and moral code as well as hold the child accountable when she transgresses it. The child needs many opportunities to practice virtue and genuine praise when she acts in a virtuous way.

Needs, Obstacles and Help During the Three Stages of Childhood and Adolescence

Middle Years – Separation – Who am I? How am I unique?

Need – During this stage of development children come to realize they have their own thoughts, feelings and opinions. The child realizes that he or she is one of a kind, unique and different from all others. Within the family or group he must define a special identity and know he is appreciated for his uniqueness.

Obstacles – The need for separation and identity not met in the early years may become exacerbated in the middle years as a child with a negative self-image. The child may feel overshadowed by an older sibling or ignored due to the needs of a younger sibling. She may feel she has no special talent or ability on a team or as part of an organization.

Help – Parents and other adults who are loving “mirrors” can reflect to the child his or her unique qualities and talents. Parents can show respect for a child’s feelings, thoughts and opinions by listening and affirming the child even when there are differences of opinion as well as respect the child’s privacy of thoughts and feelings.

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