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The Don Bosco Way: Parenting Tips from a Saint

Anne Prevosk, Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern

In today's culture it's so important to prioritize our children's mental health. Sometimes we wonder what we can do to support and form them at home. Below I have compiled some of the wisdom of St. John Bosco, a Salesian priest, teacher, founder of a boys shelter in Italy, and Patron Saint of Youth. Throughout I have integrated how this wisdom reflects our understanding of a promotion of the mental health of children within the context of the family.

Quality Time -My children, jump, run and play and make all the noise you want but avoid sin like the plague and you will surely gain heaven. In 2023 A study* on the effect of the time parents spend with children on children's well-being found the following "The results showed that the more time they spent on life and leisure activities [in contrast with educational activities] with children, the higher the children's well-being was." Play is the work of childhood and spending quality time in child-led play or activities increases children's well-being. Whether it's a game, playing pretend, going for a walk, or simply having a heart-to-heart conversation, the time will increase the bond you share with your child. It doesn't have to be huge or elaborate, it can be something as simple as 15-30 minutes a week of intentional, single-task, joyful time. Through this children learn over and over again that they are important to you and that they belong, beliefs that are crucial to mental health.

Presence & Gratitude

-Everything fades away, but not our gratitude. We shall always pray that God will abundantly bless those who have been so good to us.

Encourage your child to practice presence and gratitude by engaging in activities that promote present-moment awareness such as quite prayer time, regularly asking them what they want to thank the Lord for that day, taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature. Modeling being in the present with your child creates an environment of reflection and builds connection not only with you, but with the Lord. Every child is different and for some it can feel difficult to engage in quite presence.

One helpful activity is the rainbow grounding game. Ask your child to pick 1 object for each color of the rainbow they want to thank God for:

  • I want to thank God for the red strawberries on the table

  • I want to thank God for the orange blanket on the couch

  • I want to thank God for yellow birds in the window

Continue until you have gone through all the colors of the rainbow. This game helps draw attention to the present moment, practices gratitude, and increases an awareness of God's presence. You can also remind your child that the rainbow is God's symbol of hope for us.

Open Communication -Never give harsh reproof or ridicule but only charitable mutual admonition.

Communication has two parts, 1) receiving another person’s thoughts and feelings and 2) sharing your thoughts and feelings. First, we need to receive by giving undivided attention to our children. Second, we create a sense of safety by sharing our thoughts and feelings without anger or invalidation. Encourage honesty and trust by listening attentively, reflecting back what they tell you, and offering support and gentle correction when needed. When open communication is practiced regularly it conveys the message to the child that their parent is a safe person for them to go to when they make mistakes.

Take Care of Yourself

-Without confidence and love, there can be no true education. If you want to be loved…you must love yourselves, and make your children feel that you love them. Children are wonderful observers and often times see what their parents do (or don’t do) without them realizing it. Scripture tells us that we have a responsibility to care for the gift of our bodies: "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, — Ephesians 5:29" Teach your child the importance of virtuous self-care by modeling healthy habits:

  • Praying regularly

  • Taking time for leisure

  • Taking a break when overwhelmed or angry

  • Regular attendance at Mass and confession

  • Reading and studying scripture

  • Engagement with the truth beauty and goodness through creativity,

  • Caring for your body through physical exercise.

By taking care of yourself you are taking care of your child.

Repair the relationship

-Do not try to excuse your faults; try to correct them.

-This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so He bade us to be gentle and humble of heart. It's important to not just model good habits, but to model what to do when we mess up. Kids know adults make mistakes, they see it. It's important to show our children how to take responsibility for our mistakes, even in our relationship with them. Here is a good rule of thumb: “what’s most important may not be what you did, but what you do after what you have done”. By focusing on what happens next, parents’ model to their children on how to repair a relationship and what is expected when mistakes are made. Tell you child where you fell short, tell them you are sorry, and ask their forgiveness. By doing this, when they mess up or fall short, they have a wonderful model to fall back on, knowing that it is safe to be vulnerable in their shortcomings.

Remember, every child is unique, so it's essential to tailor these tools to suit your child's individual needs and preferences. By prioritizing your child's mental health and well-being, you are laying the foundation for a happy and healthy future.

*Li, D., & Guo, X. (2023). The effect of the time parents spend with children on children's well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 14, 1096128.


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