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Aquinas and the timeless art of raising virtuous children

Dad holding child's hand

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Daniel Esparza - published on 04/11/24

Aquinas emphasized the importance of instruction, modeling, and thoughtful correction as core tools for nurturing virtue in children.

Raising children to become adults of strong moral character is a central (if not the central) goal of Catholic education. While our contemporary world offers a wealth of resources and advice, it’s always helpful to turn to the wisdom of the ages. One source is the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century theologian and philosopher. While aspects of his teaching must be considered in their historical context, Aquinas’ approach to virtue is timeless – and thus compatible with contemporary parenting strategies.

Deeply influenced by the ancient philosopher Aristotle, Aquinas emphasized the importance of instruction, modeling, and thoughtful correction as core tools for nurturing virtue in children. He believed in explaining the “why” behind good behavior to give children a strong moral foundation. Children watch us closely, making our behavior a powerful teaching tool; embodying virtues like kindness, honesty, and self-control in our lives speaks far louder than words.

When children stumble, Aquinas didn’t see punishment as the answer. Mistakes are opportunities for growth. Helping children understand the effects of their actions and how to make better choices is essential. This may involve natural consequences, restorative conversations about their choices, or simple redirection. The goal is not to shame or inflict pain, but to get them back on track.

Aquinas, like modern child development experts, understood that true virtue comes from within. Simply following rules out of fear is not the same as internalizing the values that make us choose the good. Children need to understand why kindness is important, why self-control leads to better outcomes, and why honesty builds trust.

At the heart of the Aquinas approach is love. Children who feel loved and safe, even when corrected, are far more receptive to their parents’ guidance. This love builds trust and lays the foundation for them to internalize the lessons we wish to impart.

Although his era predates the insights of modern psychology, Aquinas offers a timeless template for raising children of character. His focus on proactive teaching, setting positive examples, and using discipline as an opportunity for growth and understanding resonates with the best parenting advice today.

ChildrenEducationFamily & EducationSaints
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