Education in Cleanliness
“Once upon a time there was a great king who reigned from his throne in a magnificent palace…everything was beautiful, and clean, and wonderfully decorated, and everyone in the palace had only one desire: to please the king with their dress, their words, their attitude, and their actions….Children, the greatest king, the King of kings, lives in our heart, and we get to please Him, to honor Him.”
Mother Begins Her Story
The little ones ask their mother questions, they do not understand very well, and with eyes full of wonder they learn that their soul is more beautiful than the most beautiful palace on earth, since Jesus Himself has been living in it since their baptism! If our soul is a temple, our body must reflect the beauty of this interior treasure and our whole exterior must always radiate Jesus.
Virtue of Cleanliness
Dear mothers, even little ones can understand this, and it is both the starting point and the deepest reason for an education in cleanliness and modesty. For a Christian, it is not so much a question of social conventions, it is a question of true virtue: my personal cleanliness must be to honor the Divine Guest in my soul. From their earliest childhood, children can learn through the little acts of daily life to respect the life of grace in them and to show this deference on the outside by their cleanliness and modesty.
Practically speaking, very young children should form good hygiene habits and little by little learn to remember them on their own. Around the age of 3 or 4, we teach a child by doing things with him, then we let him do them on his own and check the results: “You didn’t forget your teeth? Show me your nails.” Around the age of 7, when children start going to summer camps, they need to be able to fend for themselves. Going against their sense of decency on the pretext of saving time, is a serious danger to be avoided: no collective baths and showers, and children mustn’t go from their room to the bathroom naked. Baths and showers should be quick; taking care of the body must not degenerate into sensuality…and the step is so easily taken ever since original sin! The bathroom is not a playroom. Children must learn to use it quickly and “efficiently”!
Washing up is a chore for younger children, but as they grow older, it can become a pastime and a pursuit, especially for girls. We have to limit the time they spend and kindly but firmly put an end to these excesses: virtue lies in the happy medium. We mustn’t wait before addressing budding defects: repeated acts are what form good or bad habits.
Cleanliness and Modesty
Cleanliness and modesty in dress go along with bodily cleanliness. Clothing should be clean and unwrinkled, but does not necessarily need to be changed every day. Without being obsessive about cleanliness, we can teach children to be careful with their clothes; clean clothes do not grow in dressers on their own; they are the result of a mother’s hard work washing and ironing. And it is important to have ordinary clothes for playing during the week and nice Sunday clothes that are treated more carefully. It helps children learn to have a special respect for God.
As St. Francis de Sales says, we must be clothed with “grace, decorum and dignity.” So let us begin preparing our little ones with the cleanliness and simplicity becoming of children of God.