Five Questions About Parenting and Education

Priest Andrew Malakhovsky, a cleric of St. Elisabeth Convent and a father of two, answers some nagging questions about parenting and education.

1. Shall we send our kids to a kindergarten (public or private) or educate them at home?

My own children went to a state-funded kindergarten and then a public school. It was in the early 2000s. Our financial standing was so disastrous at that time that people could never even begin dreaming of private kindergartens. We were happy just to have enough food on the table.

The private kindergartens that spring up in many parishes or are launched by people who know each other well are a fairly good type of preschool education. They organise a small group of children of various ages. All children stay together, and the older kids can look after the younger kids while the younger kids can follow the example set by the older kids.

Relationships in a family with many children are different. Children in such families learn to back down, make friends, or stand up for themselves. If you raise just one or two children, going to a kindergarten will improve your child’s social skills.

It’s hard to tell which way is better. It is great if you send your kid to an Orthodox kindergarten but some priests have noted that you can teach Christian values to your children even if they go to a public kindergarten.

We’re talking about raising children in a certain environment, and I’ve recalled a book titled “Tsar’s Children.” It gives an account of the role that the future Emperor Nicholas II and his brother George’s teacher and one of her sons Volodya Ollongren played in the upbringing of the young princes. We see that boys in the Imperial Family didn’t grow in isolation. They were able to fight for themselves and endure offence. They could defend others or yield to someone, if necessary.

2. What is your attitude to corporal punishments?

Speaking of the traditional approach, it’s undesirable to punish children often. You could spank your kid once or twice a year as a serious punishment, but no more than that. You should better talk with your children and try to get your point through. They’ll understand that if they are obstinate and disobedient, they’ll run into some problems. What about whims? As soon as a child gets an opportunity, he or she starts playing up. You need discipline to avoid it. The child must be aware that, for instance, we watch cartoons from 7 pm to 8 pm. You don’t have to encourage or cave in to all their whims.

3. What should we do with the rebelliousness, which is so typical of adolescents?

You should make sure that you maintain contact with your child. You shouldn’t insist on talking about controversial topics. Think of what interests them: music or some hobby. Listen to their favourite songs or make something with your hands—just be there with him or her.

Many parents are worried because their children become less interested in the faith. You must always remember that this period of critical attitude to everything will eventually come to an end. If you lose contact with your kids, you’ll have a hard time trying to bridge the gap. Children can hide their feelings, and parents will be in trouble… Your best choice is to maintain mutual understanding to the best of your abilities.

I know girls and boys who sank into a veritable abyss by Orthodox standards. And then, you see, once they turn 25, they return to the Church and start going to the services again. You see, this period is inevitable so you should make sure to set the right example to your child and show the right way to go in an indirect manner instead of imposing your point of view on them, trying to push your viewpoint at them by repeating it all the time.

You shouldn’t expect positive reactions, though. Young people of that age submit all incoming information to their personal scrutiny. They are trying to connect the dots between the facts of their own lives, their friends’ lives, or someone else’s lives that they’ve read about. They learn by real-life examples. Don’t be confident that your teenager will immediately succumb to your words. Your words will come to fruition later.

4. What should we do if a child is in trouble at school due to his or her faith?

My children had the same problem, too. I taught my son to defend himself, so no one dared to bully him for his faith. Sadly, my daughter had to experience some unpleasant moments. Other kids bullied her and didn’t want to talk with her because she attended church.

In a situation like that, your home must be a safe haven for your child. We created a peaceful environment for our daughter at home so that she could relax. We got her engaged in lots of family activities like hiking, sightseeing, or strolling in the woods. Our daughter went to music school and to a swimming pool, that is, she could switch to alternative activities. Finally, the situation at school dissolved somehow after summer vacations.

If your child says that he or she is able to endure that situation, he or she should stay in the same school. Remember those geniuses who stood out from the crowd? They weren’t happy at school, either. Weren’t many of them bullied? Situations like those teach children to forgive and foster their growth. If your kid doesn’t have friends, the time that could be wasted on socializing will be spent on creative efforts. Well, and if the situation is critical, e.g., the teacher is against the child or doesn’t do anything to bridle bullying, then you should send your kid to a different school.

5. What kind of school should we choose: a secular one or a religious one?

Gymnasia are the best schools. There is an Orthodox gymnasium in our Convent but in fact, teachers make a lot of difference, too. They have to be true Christians, and not just call themselves Christians, because it’s easy to ruin a child’s faith by a nonchalant approach.

First of all, a child gets most of his or her education and upbringing in the family. Moral purity and proper values—that’s the crux of what the family must plant and teach their kids.

St. Elisabeth Convent
December 24, 2018