The heart of the child is formed along with the formation of his character. During the first few years of the child’s life, it is the mother’s responsibility to form his heart because he spends more time with his mother than with his father, who is usually away from home during the day to provide for the needs of the family. It is the father’s role, however, to perfect this formation as the child grows up. The child looks up to his mother to learn how to conduct himself and to imitate her. As well, he looks up to his father, who represents strength, courage, and manliness; each of these are characteristics the child will need in order to become a fully mature adult.
A Generous Heart
To develop the heart of a child, let us first bring forth to him good examples, in order to teach him to love good things and goodness itself. And we believe the first example to present to the child is that of Our Father in Heaven, our Creator. From the time of his baptism, your child’s soul possesses sanctifying grace, which makes it a temple of God, a house of God. Naturally, you will speak of the goodness of God, who is called the Good God because He is good. The child’s pure soul does not need to “understand” in order to believe. The child believes what his mother tells him; he believes in this God that lives in his heart. The mother also believes and loves the Good God; her example is paramount here. That is enough for the child. Ah, dear mothers, if you only knew the power you wield by the mere fact of being his mom, to fill your little one’s heart with notions of Christian life!
No one can replace you, or your vocation, at this stage of your child’s life. In order to foster in his soul the growth of the Faith received in baptism, you need to know to “consecrate” your time through talking to him about the God that lives in him. The more your child (and you!) live in the presence of this truth, the easier will be the formation of his heart. It is never too soon; the younger the child is when these ideas are being instilled, the more he will learn to live with a good heart. Keep in mind always that it is easier to correct a little one’s imperfections before the habits have been acquired. That is why we should start as soon as possible—and why not from the cradle? The child is already testing his parents’ reactions.
To encourage the life of the heart, the senses need to be tamed, mastered. A misdirected sensibility guided by selfishness desecrates the heart, extinguishes its life, and leads to its distortion.
Let us explain this. To love is to give oneself and to give to another. To be sensual is to look out for oneself, to gather for oneself. As you see, sensuality is opposed to love. That is why it is necessary to fight the faults that are, in essence, the childish and adolescent forms of vices. What we don’t correct now will grow into vices and sinful habits later on. All sin is a form of selfishness; it is to prefer oneself, one’s whims and will, over another’s will (that is, over God’s will made known to the child through his mother). The best way to correct selfishness is to provide occasions for positive acts of love, acts of charity.
Little Things Matter
It is up to you, dear moms, to teach your child the small, seemingly insignificant acts, the seeds of which will germinate in his heart. Let us take a look at St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. After she observed her parents feeding and clothing the poor, Thérèse could not wait till she, too, gave her shoes to a barefoot little girl. Granted, nowadays there are not as many needy, but there are other occasions to foster generosity in the child’s heart: for instance, to give his toys to children that lack them (On this note, it is shocking to see these days how many toys children get at Christmas!). Other occasions would be to teach the child to do favors for others, to tidy up a room, to make his bed. A child can be taught from an early age to love—to truly love—order and cleanliness. It is necessary to demand firmly (at all times and persistently) as well as with kindness and love. The child must find his mother’s heart in all her demands; “the heart” in this case means love, but not a sentimentalism akin to softness. This motherly love shows the child that his mother intends to better him. Every child is glad to perform a good action which pleases his mother, but it is important for the mother to remember to take the time to show her satisfaction with a job well done. The encouragement the child craves helps him in turn to repeat the good deed. Hence, the importance of the mother’s vigilant attention.
Which are some other faults requiring correction? For some, gluttony or jealousy; for others, vanity or pride, or the desire to be the boss. All these tendencies that remain behind after original sin must be opposed courageously, or else they will consume the heart. There is often the case of a very talented child, his mother’s pride and joy, whose heart is self-centered because he wants only to shine and be praised. Dear mothers, if among the children God gave you there is one particularly talented, guard his humility by encouraging an abundant generosity, and especially, make sure never to fawn over him—that would prove fatal! Generally speaking, a talented child has more abilities than others, so he has to learn to share the gifts God has given him, not merely to enjoy them. He has to learn to share his time with others less fortunate. Humility is truth. Even if we are very learned, what is that compared to God? It is less than nothing. Let us, therefore, teach the child to remain in his place and not consider the talents he has received.
We frequently hear that children are ungrateful by nature. Yes, indeed, because they have a tendency to be self-centered. What are we doing to correct this? Dear moms, it is your duty to teach your children to say “Thank you,” an expression which means so much when it comes from the heart. This is a habit that has been lost in the new generation; it is so rare to find nowadays a child who uses that simple expression, “Thank you!” What a pity!
A “Thank you” is the impulse from one heart to another. For instance, instead of withdrawing with the tempting sweet he has just received, the child is to be taught to look at who offered the candy and say, “Thank you, mom.” This may be considered trivial, yet it is necessary to sow many seeds in the field to ensure an abundant crop. We are dealing with forming the soul of a child to be a temple of Almighty God, for His glory. If his own mother has not taught the child to be grateful, how is he to learn to be grateful to God? What a responsibility! That is what He invites us to do every day, with the help of His almighty grace. Keep it in mind.
To come out of oneself, to forget our own little world, to be humble, and yet to ennoble oneself in an enterprise that surpasses and elevates one’s strength: in this we find the secret of happiness.